SAN JOSE, Calif. Wireless LAN chips will show up in cellphones and start embracing smart antenna technology in 2004, according to a panel of wireless chip experts at the Communications Design Conference here.
In a broad discussion of all things wireless on Wednesday (Oct. 1), Craig Barratt, chief executive of WiFi chip maker Atheros Communications (Sunnyvale, Calif.), said phased-array antenna technology will appear in client 802.11 chips soon. "That will be a way to substantially increase frequency efficiency," Barratt said.
In an interview after the panel, Barratt said he expects the technology to first appear before the end of next year in silicon for access points supporting multiple antennas linking to single-antenna PC chip sets to provide greater range or capacity. That could be followed by support for multiple antennas on both client and access-point chip sets.
"This is one way WiFi chip makers will be able to differentiate their products. The big challenge is it will add costs. You will have to sell the products on the added value in terms of greater range or data rate," Barratt added.
In the panel session, Carl Panasik, a distinguished member of the technical staff at Texas Instruments INc. took a contrary position. He noted that in tests running six WiFi nets in a single room, smart antenna technology had little impact on performance.
However, in private comments after the panel Panasik said TI is "very deep into" smart antenna technology. "We have a lot of the basic patents in this area, but it has to become part of a standard before we will allocate resources to [building] something," he added.
The panelists generally agreed that while only large carriers have a reasonable business model for building public WiFi networks, 802.11 will nevertheless appear in phones starting next year. Earlier this year, Broadcom, Philips and TI launched low-power WiFi chip sets aimed at smart phones and wireless PDAs.
"One year ago everyone thought WiFi was a power hog. But we have shown with good engineering how we can expand this technology in the mobile space," said Paul Marino, general manager of the business communications group at Philips Semiconductors (San Jose).
"So we will see the logical convergence of cellular and WiFi networks next year," concluded Craig Mathias, principal with the Farpoint Group (Ashland, Mass.) who moderated the panel. Mathias said he expects to see cellphones with WiFi emerge at the Consumer Electronics Show in January and to be in production by June.
However, seamless roaming between the two networks won't arrive for as many as three years, said Andrew Seybold, a wireless analyst and president of Outlook 4Mobility on the panel.
"You need standardization for roaming to happen, and that won't come from the 3GPP [cellular standards group] until the end of this year. So, yes, it will probably not be implemented for another two or three years," said Christian Kermarrec, vice president of the RF and wireless group at Analog Devices Inc. (Wilmington, Mass.)
Separately, panelists from ADI and Philips disagreed with a contention of the moderator Mathias that Bluetooth is dead.
"Philips is shipping millions of Bluetooth components a month. The headset is a primary application. It is also being used for synching PDAs and as a link for computer peripherals," said Marino of Philips.
"Thirty to 40 percent of all cellphones in the next few years will have Bluetooth," added ADI's Kermarrec.
Mathias and others contended that Bluetooth is too slow for sharing files or synching systems. While it may appear in many phones, it may see as little use as the infrared ports that now proliferate in today's notebook computers, Barratt said.
The panel was generally upbeat on the outlook for ultrawideband technology, providing UWB sticks to applications for which it is well suited.
"UWB is a personal area network, not a competitor with 802.11, and its not a substitute for Bluetooth though it may be what Bluetooth evolves to on the road map. UWB will serve fundamentally as a wire replacement on computer and consumer systems," said Marino.