updated 07:00 pm EDT, Tue July 31, 2012
Handles Bluetooth 4.0, FM radio, more on 40nm chip
Broadcom over the weekend introduced its latest consolidated multi-wireless chips, a combination of Bluetooth 4.0 and the forthcoming 802.11ac, which offers more than twice the speed of existing 802.11n technology and yet is up to six times more power-efficient handling the same amount of data. The new chips can also handle FM and conventional 802.11 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, and are expected to debut in early 2013 for use in smartphones and tablets.
The new chip uses a 40-nanometer CMOS process and integrates a full Wi-Fi system -- including MAC, PHY and RF. Like Bluetooth 4.0, the system can enter a low-power mode (and come out of it) nearly instantly, providing significant power savings when the system is not actively being used. The range of the chips is also said to be dramatically better than current 802.11 technology, with throughput topping 1Gb (gigabit) per second.
While the arrival of the chips will be too late for smartphone and tablet models that may be introduced this fall, the technology bodes well for sales of home routers, future portable computer models and any 2013 mobile devices. Broadcom is not the only company promising "5G WiFi" (the consumer name for 802.11ac) chips, which may lead to pricing wars that should keep costs low for device manufacturers. The company says its chips are designed to sit alongside "4G" LTE cellular radios and avoid interference issues.
That the same chipset can be used on ultraportables, tablets, smartphones and other devices should help create a uniform experience and also provide a boost in battery life on future mobile devices by using significantly less power than current Wi-Fi and earlier Bluetooth radios do. The 802.11ac standards is expected to be widely and quickly adopted over the next few years, with Broadcom saying it should be nearly ubiquitous in mobile devices by 2016.
The company notes that most streamed video is now viewed on devices other than traditional desktop PCs, and that mobile data traffic is expected to grow 18-fold over the next four years. The new chip, known as the BCM4335, is sampling now. The current iPhone 4S is using a Qualcomm-made transceiver chip, but the new iPad uses Broadcom's BCM4330, so it will be interesting to see if the next generation of devices consolidates the Wi-Fi radio chipset towards either company.