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Low-power RF niche in AMI's sights

Posted: 24 Jul 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:AMI Semiconductor? RF transceiver chip? baseband? transmit? receiver IC?

In a bid to expand into standard-products portfolios, AMI Semiconductor Inc. this week will unveil plans to field an RF transceiver chip aimed at the pending low-power IEEE 802.15.4 specification.

The 0.35-micron device, which integrates RF transmit-and-receive features as well as a baseband engine, is aimed at the nascent market for low-power embedded radios for industrial, automotive and medical devices. The Pocatello, Idaho company says it intends to deliver early samples of the Astric transmit/receive IC to early customers later this quarter and provide full design kits by the fourth quarter.

Astric is a low-data-rate RF transceiver, which to AMI means anything that operates below 1-GHz carrier frequencies. The device will transmit data at 40kbits/second across distances up to 100 meters using direct-sequence spread spectrum over the 868-MHz to 928-MHz band.

Halving speed, power

The transmit speed is less than half that of Bluetooth, but the device consumes little more than half the power of a Bluetooth solution and has a transmit range 10 times longer, the company said.

Operating at low power is critical, because the targeted embedded systems must be able to work in the field continuously for more than a year. These include applications such as remote medical-diagnostic equipment, keyless entry systems and agricultural instruments that monitor soil moisture, said Bob Klosterboer, vice president of mixed-signal ASICs at AMI.

"You want to have something you can forget about for 18 months to two years without having to change the batteries," he said.

The device must also be robust enough to operate in a wide range of environmental conditions, and able to withstand noise and electromagnetic interference. AMI has working silicon in its lab and has been able to transmit data between radios 100 meters apart, Klosterboer said. Moreover, AMI said the bill-of-materials cost for the 802.15.4 system using its first low-power transceiver IC, dubbed Astrx1, will be less than $6.50. The BOM for Bluetooth, by contrast, is more than $20, according to AMI.

Astrx1 is not intended to compete head-to-head with Bluetooth or any of the wireless LAN standards based on the 802.11 specification, however. Though AMI has gleaned more mixed-signal process technology and engineering expertise through its recent acquisition of the mixed-signal business of Alcatel Microelectronics, it is not disclosing specific plans to attack the higher-frequency wireless markets.

In the meantime, AMI aims to push the low-power transceiver technology as far as it can go. By mid-2003, AMI expects to have in place an ASIC methodology for customers that want to build custom RF products. The company is working on techniques to isolate the noise between the digital and RF portions of the chip, such as shutting down a microprocessor core during transmit mode, Klosterboer said.

AMI is also looking to extend the reach as far as a quarter mile, which would require an increase in power consumption. "The concern is that we may have to spread the signal even more because we have to stay under the FCC power-rating requirement," Klosterboer said.

? Anthony Cataldo

EE Times

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