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Atheros lines up embedded Wi-Fi, powerline chips

Posted: 25 Apr 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:embedded Wi-Fi chips  powerline chips  Wi-Fi start-ups  Wi-Fi chipmakers 

Atheros Communications is set to launch its first series of low-power, embedded Wi-Fi chips later this year, a move that will most likely have other leading Wi-Fi chipmakers following suit. The planned release could also push Atheros' rivals to acquire embedded Wi-Fi start-ups in a bid to better compete with Bluetooth and Zigbee.

In addition, Atheros is shipping a software developer's kit for its upcoming powerline chip based on the HomePlug Green PHY specification. It will also work with Freescale Semiconductor on future development platforms.

Both the Wi-Fi and powerline devices are part of the company's unfolding vision and products for hybrid home networks serving a mix of media, energy and control applications based on the Internet Protocol.

At this stage, Atheros is not providing any details of its embedded Wi-Fi products except to say they are home-grown designs and will compete with the likes of chips from start-ups such as GainSpan, Ozmo and ZeroG that have been pioneering this area for several years.

"We'll talk about the products in the back part of the year," said Tim Colleran, director of marketing for the smart home and building group at Atheros, and former head of sales and marketing at ZeroG. "We're the first major player coming in here," he said.

The chips will form "a critical building block" in the Atheros strategy. "There's a tremendous interest in Wi-Fi solutions in this space," Colleran said.

"The design activity is starting to ramp in a significant way [in areas such as] smart appliances," Colleran said. "Those products will hit in 2012, but significant revenues are still a good 24 months out," he added.

Both the Atheros low-power Wi-Fi and powerline chips will support the Smart Energy Profile 2.0 specification. The spec is geared for linking home appliances via smart meters to electricity pricing data and other information on utility power networks.

"I expect Broadcom, CSR and Texas Instruments will address this [embedded Wi-Fi] segment too," said Will Strauss, principal of market watcher Forward Concepts. "Broadcom is the number one Bluetooth supplier, and TI is big in just about everything wireless," he said.

Marvell is also expected to make the leap, though none of the other top Wi-Fi chip players have talked about embedded plans to date.

"We are making the assumption any major Wi-Fi chip supplier will have interest in this space, but you have to temper that interest against competing technologies and market conditions," said Craig Mathias, principal of consulting firm Farpoint Group. "Near-field communication is also getting a boost lately, and ultra-wideband is not dead," he said.

"The opportunity [for embedded Wi-Fi] is in hundreds of millions of units even though it's just a few dollars per unit," said Mathias. Given the still shaky state of global economics, "I'm a bit sceptical of the short-term opportunity, but in the long term you can bet this will happen," he added.

Indeed, it's been slow going for embedded Wi-Fi to date.

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