June 06, 2012, 1:39 PM — The next generation of Wi-Fi -- the superfast IEEE 802.11ac standard -- will integrate a range of wireless technologies on the same chip, as Marvell showed this week at Taiwan's giant annual Computex show. The semiconductor vendor announced a chip that will include 11ac with Bluetooth and near-field communications (NFC).
The integrated system-on-a-chip, part of Marvell's Avastar line, will reduce components, costs and time to market for the consumer mobile devices that are the product's target market, according to Bart Giordano, director of product marketing at Marvell, of Santa Clara. More importantly for end users, the chip's two 11ac data streams will deliver a data rate of over 860Mbps, compared to 300Mbps for a comparable 11n chip.
BACKGROUND: Speedy 802.11ac Wi-Fi set for fast, wide rollout
In both cases, useable throughput is about one-third to one-half less. Even so, 11ac represent a huge boost for Wi-Fi connectivity. [For the high end of today's three-stream 11n products, see Network World's Clear Choice Test on "Three-stream Wi-Fi hits the mark"]
The speed of 11ac should impact the efficiency and capacity of Wi-Fi connections. "I can transport data two times as efficiently [compared to 11n], so I spend less time on the [Wi-Fi] link transmitting or receiving," Giordano says. That can translate into more availability and capacity for clients.
As with announced plans for rival products, the Marvell 11ac chip will connect with the full range of existing Wi-Fi radios.
NFC is a very short-range wireless technology that's used in an array of computerized smartcards, generally for what's called "contactless" transactions: A card or other NFC-equipped device, like a smartphone, can be waved near a reader, and a bank account or other payment system is triggered to make an electronic purchase. It's long been touted as the basis of using a cellphones as electronic or mobile wallets.
But Marvell sees its first really widespread use, and that of Bluetooth 4.0, as companion technologies for Wi-Fi, to make Wi-Fi connections as seamless and effortless as cellular. Both NFC and Bluetooth can be used as "out-of-band" channels to set up and authenticate Wi-Fi connections, for example between two handsets.
"Today, the user has to search for a network, enter a pass phrase and so on," says Giordano. "With NFC, you just bring the smartphone near the connection, and the out-of-band NFC channel can be used to authenticate and then pair them."