Broadcom unveils 802.11ac chip for smartphones

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Broadcom has introduced its first 802.11ac chipset for use in smartphones, tablets, ultrabooks and related mobile devices, which should start hitting the market in the first quarter of 2013.

The addition of the BCM4335 chipset to Broadcom's 5G Wi-Fi branded portfolio makes the company the first chip vendor to sample solutions based on the 802.11ac standard for every major Wi-Fi product segment, the company said. The vendor is already shipping chips for use in laptops and routers, models of which have already hit the market.

The cost of the new 802.11ac chipset will probably carry a premium of 50 percent over a component with 802.11n, Michael Hurston, senior vice president and general manager of Broadcom's Home and Wireless Networking line of business, told PC World.

The BCM4335 integrates a single-stream 802.11ac system--including the MAC, PHY and RF--with Bluetooth 4.0, FM radio and software on a single silicon die. The chipset is backward compatible to the older 802.11n and 802.11g standards. It is designed in a 40-nanometer CMOS process to produce smaller, more power-efficient chips.

Broadcom said the BCM4335 also includes the newest version of the company's wireless coexistence technology, designed to minimize the possibility of radio interference between Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and LTE. "Broadcom's Global Coexistence Interface supports the Bluetooth Special Interest Group's LTE coexistence scheme and can be applied to future Broadcom LTE platforms, as well as 4G cellular platforms from other vendors," said the company.

802.11ac operates exclusively in the 5GHz band and is said to offer peak data rates of 1 Gbps or more depending upon how it is implemented, compared to the 600 Mbps peak data rate possible via 802.11n.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is not slated to certify the 802.11ac standard until February 2013, but end-user device vendors are starting to come out with pre-certified products. Though there were issues with the release of 802.11n products before that standard was ratified, such issues are not expected to crop up with 802.11ac due to broad agreement across vendors.

Steve Mollenkopf, president and COO at chip vendor Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM), said during that company's recent earnings call that Qualcomm is sampling 802.11ac solutions for mobile computing and networking products. The solutions "are aligned with the Wi-Fi industry's certification timeline to allow 802.11ac interoperable products in market by early 2013," he said.

Qualcomm gained its Wi-Fi chip business via the $3.1 billion purchase of Wi-Fi chip maker Atheros Communications, which closed in May 2011.

ABI Research predicts 802.11ac penetration in smartphones will approach 100 percent, with an expected total available market of almost 1.5 billion Wi-Fi chips in smartphones and tablets by 2016.

For more:
- see this Broadcom release
- see this PC World article

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