CES - New WLAN chips take on video, voice

Chip makers are showcasing their next generation wireless LAN chips at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, with many of the silicon advances focused on dealing with multimedia.

Though many of these vendors are targeting residential applications, the advances in QoS and performance, and the ability to better handle streaming media such as voice, will impact corporate wireless deployments.

The biggest name in chips, Intel, will later this week unveil more details around the next version, codenamed Napa, of its Centrino mobile package of chips and firmware. Last fall, Intel officials said Napa will feature the company's first dual-core mobile processor, and improved memory and wireless chipsets, but didn't go into details. Speculation is that the Napa wireless chipset, called Golan, will include WiMAX, a standard for broadband wireless.

In the meantime, Intel is preparing to ship the current Centrino version, called Sonoma, sometime in the first quarter of 2006. Among other wrinkles, Centrino will incorporate Intel's own 802.11a/b/g chipset. You can expect scores of laptops emerging by year-end featuring the Sonoma components.

Atheros Communications is demonstrating a new MIMO chipset at its CES booth. The new XSPAN products will be able to deliver up to 300Mbps, with enough range to blanket a typical home. MIMO uses, among other things, multiple transmitters and receivers: the Atheros chipset will use three of each.

Broadcom unveiled what it says is the first Wi-Fi chipset designed for video phones. The idea is you can a mobile or desktop phone, designed with the Broadcom technology, for phone calls that combine voice with high quality streaming video of the two callers.

The chipset packages together a Broadcom VOIP processor, its 802.11b/g WLAN chip, and a chip designed for video processing.

The package supports high resolution video standards such as H.264 and H.263, and video rates up to 30 frames per second. The WLAN chipset supports the Wi-Fi Multimedia (WMM) QoS protocol, which gives priority to voice and video packets.

The new video is available now in production quantities.

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John Cox

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