Atheros, Marvell to push fast 11n into phones

Both companies have developed multiple-antenna chips to boost performance and capacity

The fast, high-capacity Wi-Fi that users have been enjoying for a few years in laptops is now due to hit smartphones and tablets in a big way, with two major Wi-Fi chip makers announcing products that use IEEE 802.11n with multiple antennas.

So-called MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) technology is one of the key capabilities of 802.11n, the most recent major wireless LAN standard. Access points and client devices based on 11n can exchange multiple streams of data over multiple antennas, making network capacity increase by double or more, depending on how many radios and antennas they have. But this capability so far has been limited mainly to PCs and some home electronics.

On Thursday, Atheros Communications and Marvell Technologies announced MIMO chips for mobile clients. These chips can be deployed in smartphones or other handheld devices to strongly boost the speeds that users enjoy, with little or no additional battery drain, according to the companies. Both companies will showcase these chips at the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona next week.

To enjoy the full speed boost of MIMO, both the client and the access point need to have the capability. But the new silicon could be good news for mobile operators with heavily taxed cellular data networks, as well as for subscribers using those networks. Some carriers already use Wi-Fi hotspots extensively in order to give users higher speeds in densely crowded areas. Additional capacity on Wi-Fi should translate into speeds higher than cellular for some users, or an alternative path to the Internet or multimedia applications for people in very crowded areas.

On Thursday, Atheros announced the AR6004, an SOC (system on a chip) with 2x2 MIMO, allowing for two ingoing and two outgoing data streams. The AR6004 can use both the 2.4GHz and the 5GHz radio bands and is capable of real-world speeds as high as 170M bps (bits per second). The company has been able to build MIMO into the AR6004 such that the new chip consumes only 15 per cent more power than the current AR6003, which offers only 85M bps, according to Tim Peters, senior director of mobile communications at Atheros.

The Atheros chip is intended for both high-end smartphones and tablets. It will be available in sample quantities by the end of this quarter and in commercial quantities in the first quarter of next year, Peters said.

Also on Thursday, Marvell introduced the Avastar 88W8797, another 11n dual-band chip with 2x2 MIMO capability. The chip is capable of data rates as high as 300M bps, according to Marvell, and includes Bluetooth capability. It is designed for smartphones and tablets as well as sensor devices for health monitoring and home automation. It is available now in sample quantities.

In especially crowded locations, 2x2 MIMO will help mobile operators absorb the ongoing explosion in mobile data use more economically, said Farpoint Group analyst Craig Mathias. The two-stream technology has twice the capacity of one-stream Wi-Fi, so carriers can do a better job of reaching subscribers with the same number of installations.

Despite the many variables involved in wireless performance, including distance and competition from other nearby subscribers, the added stream will make a difference, Mathias said. The added capacity won't ensure faster downloads every time, but it makes it more likely that many users in the same area will be able to use network-hungry services such as video.

"They're never going to guarantee throughput, but they have to provide capacity," Mathias said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Networkingwirelesshardware systemsPhonestablet PCslaptopsMarvell TechnologiesAtheros CommunicationsWLANs / Wi-FiMobile handsetsconsumer electronics

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Stephen Lawson

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?