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Three Chip Vendors Bet On Wi-Fi Boom

Metalink, SyChip and Atheros will all announce Wi-Fi-based chips this week, in the belief that video, voice-over-Internet Protocol and embedded consumer applications will supercharge the growth of Wi-Fi wireless networking.

MANHASSET, N.Y. — Metalink, SyChip and Atheros will all announce Wi-Fi-based chips this week, in the belief that video, voice-over-Internet Protocol and embedded consumer applications ranging from handsets to digital cameras will supercharge the growth of Wi-Fi wireless networking.

While the official demise of IceFyre Semiconductor last week suggests that the Wi-Fi chip market may be consolidating, that hasn't put a damper on development. ABI Research (Oyster Bay, N.Y.) predicts that Wi-Fi/cellular handsets will reach 100 million units by 2010 and International Data Corp. (San Mateo, Calif.) forecasts that wireless-LAN semiconductor revenue will increase from $1.2 billion in 2004 to $3 billion by 2009.

Craig Barratt, president and chief executive officer of Atheros Communications Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.), said he is confident the dual-mode handset market, the consumer market and the embedded market will all be big for Wi-Fi. The company this week will announce its first chips for low-power embedded applications. Available in two versions — the AR6001x dual-band 802.11a/g and AR6001G .11g- only — the chips require only some passives and possibly external power amplifiers in higher-power applications, said Barratt. The fact that the Atheros chips are .11g and .11a compliant is interesting, said Celeste Crystal, senior research analyst at IDC, given that offerings to date from the likes of Philips, Broadcom and Texas Instruments have focused on 802.11b only. However, Atheros has historically advocated the use of faster data rates as a path to lower power consumption.

With a footprint of less than 100 mm2, the new Atheros chips have a standby power of less than 1 mW and are priced under $12 each in lots of 10,000, Barratt said. They are sampling now and will be in production by the third quarter. For its part, Metalink Ltd. (Yakum, Israel) has broken out from its traditional focus on communications processing (primarily DSL oriented) to announce the first single-chip multiple-input, multiple-output RF transceiver.

Metalink "is trying to solve the problem of video in the home," said Ron Cates, vice president of North American marketing and sales.

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