Despite disappointment with the rate of Bluetooth deployment, the wireless connectivity technology now appears to be moving into a period of accelerated growth, and Silicon Wave Inc. is throwing a batch of third-generation silicon into the market.
Bluetooth for the past five years has been touted as the answer for short-range wireless connections, but it wasn't until last year that chip shipments began to meet expectations, said Jarvis Tou, vice president and product manager at Silicon Wave, San Diego.
"Bluetooth was probably overhyped," Tou noted. "But if you compare it against any other connectivity or wireless standard, including USB, PCI, InfiniBand, 1394, or even Wi-Fi, Bluetooth is among those growing the fastest."
Although Wi-Fi, or 802.11a/b/g-compliant wireless LAN, received the bulk of corporate and media attention last year, Bluetooth chips outshipped Wi-Fi chips, Tou said. Analysts have placed Wi-Fi shipments at around 20 million in 2002, while Bluetooth shipments exceeded 28 million.
According to analysts at both In-Stat/MDR and the Institute for Supply Management, Bluetooth chip shipments could reach 100 million this year and grow to 500 million or more by 2005.
These figures are tied to the belief that Bluetooth will become the wireless connection of choice for cellular handsets in the next couple of years, Tou explained.
Silicon Wave's third generation of Bluetooth devices are designed to address applications in which a full baseband solution is needed, or for a stand-alone Bluetooth radio to be integrated into cellular handsets in which the Bluetooth baseband functions are handled by the handset baseband processor.
The company's single-chip, CMOS-based SiW3000 integrates a direct-conversion radio modem with an ARM7 processor, Bluetooth baseband logic, and protocol software with ROM.
The SiW3000 is sampling, with volume production scheduled for the end of the second quarter. The price is less than $4 in quantities of a million, the company said.
The SiW1712 is for cellular handsets using CDMA-compatible chipsets with an integrated Bluetooth baseband. The SiW1711 is a general-purpose radio modem for use with a variety of Bluetooth baseband ICs, and the SiW1713 implements the Nokia RF-BB interface.
The SiW1711, SiW1712, and SiW1713 are all sampling, with production slated for the end of the second quarter, according to the company.
Tou said Silicon Wave in 2002 sold "hundreds of thousands to millions" of Bluetooth chips, but declined to provide specific shipment information.
"Market share is not really relevant in emerging markets," he said. "The Bluetooth market is still too dynamic and positions shift rapidly. What's important is that the market itself is huge, and will continue to grow."