Broadcom to unveil four faster Wi-Fi chips

The 802.11ac silicon will break the Gigabit barrier, Broadcom said

By , IDG News Service |  Unified Communications, 802.11ac, Broadcom

The International Consumer Electronics Show next week may be a major launchpad for a new, faster generation of Wi-Fi that goes about three times faster than current gear, with at least one major silicon vendor announcing and demonstrating a set of chips for the IEEE 802.11ac standard.

Broadcom is announcing the four chips for PCs and consumer electronics products on Thursday, a few days ahead of the massive trade show that formally opens next Tuesday, and said it is already shipping them to manufacturers in sample quantities.

The 802.11ac specification is still under development, but consumer products built with it are expected to hit the market by the end of this year. Though the Wi-Fi Alliance does not expect to begin certifying products before the fourth quarter, devices might start hitting stores by midyear, according to Michael Hurlston, senior vice president and general manager of Broadcom's wireless LAN division. Those early products should be upgradable in the field to the final standard, he said.

The new generation of networks, which Broadcom is calling "5G WiFi," will be available in versions offering speeds as high as 1.3G bps. That will translate to as much as 1.1G bps of real-world performance for the high-end version of the technology, which will use three streams of data, Hurlston said.

But even the lowest end of 802.11ac technology will outstrip current 802.11n gear, and with lower power consumption. A single-stream radio has a theoretical top speed of 433M bps, or about 350M bps in the real world. Those single-stream components can be used in mobile phones. With 802.11n, even multiple-stream devices don't typically surpass 300M bps.

The new standard achieves this performance through a variety of mechanisms, including wider channel bandwidth of 80MHz or more, a higher modulation scheme and beamforming, which directs a radio's signal. In addition, the new standard will solely use the 5GHz band, which currently is less crowded with Wi-Fi and other devices than is Wi-Fi's other band at 2.4GHz.

The improved performance should mean better streaming of video around a home, for mobile phones as well as PCs and home electronics, which is the major thrust of Broadcom's 802.11ac strategy. As the new radios can send bits faster, they can revert more quickly to a rest mode with lower power use, leading to lower power consumption overall than with 802.11n.

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