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Wireless ICs call on integration

Posted: 02 Jan 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wireless ic? wlan? prism? reference radio? usb dongle?

Optimistic over the prospect of wireless hands-free cellphones and other roaming-access applications, makers of integrated circuits for Bluetooth and 802.11, or Wi-Fi, wireless local-area network (WLAN) connectivity are readying a new generation of chips for volume delivery in Q1 of 2003. Vendors of both technologies are striving for higher levels of integration.

"It is important to bring complete solutions to market," noted Jim Robillard, director of marketing for communications products in the Personal Connectivity Solutions Group at Advanced Micro Devices Inc.

AMD has launched the AM-1772, an 802.11b WLAN chipset consisting of a CMOS RF transceiver, media-access controller and baseband processor. Robillard said the chipset integrates a voltage-controlled oscillator, PLL and loop filter, and eliminates the need for external flash or SRAM.

Also targeting 802.11b WLAN applications is the single-chip SA2400 from Philips Semiconductors. It integrates the functionality needed for full radio operation, thus reducing the BOM for a radio by more than half. Based on a zero-IF, direct-conversion architecture and fabricated in a BiCMOS process, the chip offers a gain of 100dB, noise figure of 6 dB, input third-order intercept point of -8 dBm, AGC settling time of 5ms and Tx to Rx switching time of 5ms.

Aided by Prism WLAN technology from Intersil Corp., Conexant Systems Inc. recently launched a single-chip asymmetric digital subscriber line router and 802.11b WLAN device, the CX82340, that lets multiple users share a high-speed Internet connection through a wireless network. It is due in volume in Q1 this year.

Also pairing up in 2002 were Infineon Technologies AG (San Jose) and Agere Systems Inc. The companies plan to develop 802.11 chips that will reach up to 54Mbps for enterprise solutions, multimedia entertainment, and home applications.

On the Bluetooth side, reflecting the trend toward collaboration is Richardson, Texas-based Cambridge Silicon Radio, which introduced a CDMA radio-only version of its BlueCore2 device designed specifically for connection to Qualcomm's MSM5100 Mobile Station Modem chip set in mobile handset applications.

BlueCore2-CDMA is said to need fewer external components than previous designs using integrated loop-filter components and linear voltage regulators. The part "brings CMOS radio to a new market segment at a cost point that will allow Bluetooth to become a mandatory feature on mobile handsets," said product manager John Halksworth.

Implementing a vertical-market strategy, Infineon introduced a Bluetooth Communications Gateway (BCG) for automotive infotainment applications. Designed for integration into a car radio and priced below $50 in 10,000-piece quantities, the BCG allows drivers to make phone calls without having to insert a mobile phone into a cradle or use additional wiring.

The BCG is based on the single-chip TC1910 Audio and Gateway Controller, which offers microcontroller functionality to host the Bluetooth software and digital signal processor functionality to perform voice-processing functions. Mecel AB, a Swedish subsidiary of Delphi Electronics Inc., provides the Bluetooth protocol stack and Philips provides the speech recognition software.

The BRF6100 from Texas Instruments Inc., also due in this Q1, is a single-chip Bluetooth solution that integrates a digital RF processor and Bluetooth baseband. Requiring just five external components, it is the first implementation of TI's digital RF architecture and uses TI's 0.13?m, copper CMOS process. The company said it will consume as little as half the power of current solutions and promises to occupy less board space.

Working toward a series of complete Bluetooth solutions, National Semiconductor Corp. last December introduced the first of a family of Simply Blue modules that promise shorter design times as well as low power and small size.

First up in the series is the LMX9820, which enables Bluetooth data connectivity via a UART serial port. Other modules planned for introduction this year will include an embedded Bluetooth protocol stack, application-specific profiles, and a high-level command interpreter.

With a 10.1-by-14-by-1.9-mm footprint, the modules provide metal can shielding and radio front-end filtering for effective immunity to close-proximity radio noise, which is a common problem for most current portable wireless devices. Non-volatile memory supports Bluetooth wireless parameter storage needs as well as firmware upgrades in the field. The LMX9820 will be available in Q1, priced at $15 in 10,000-piece quantities.

Also, Broadcom Corp. introduced the single-chip BCN2035 Blutonium Bluetooth device in October, touting the part's radio sensitivity and range - 50 percent to 100 percent beyond that of other Bluetooth radios - as well as its 5-by-6mm package size. It features a specified radio sensitivity of -90dBm and programmable output power of up to 7dBm. Using maximum output power and high receiver sensitivity, two BCM2035 devices can connect at well over 100m in range, according to the company.

The great lure

Further, the wireless-connectivity market is luring other companies besides radio chip suppliers. Ottawa-based SiGe Semiconductor Inc., for example, has introduced a power amplifier, the RangeCharger SE-2522BL, which combines high output power with power control features to improve the transmission range and efficiency of 802.11b devices.

SiGe's amp is capable of 23dBm of linear output power at an adjacent channel power ratio of -30dBc. With 2dBm to 3dBm losses typical in most WLAN systems, the SE2533-BL performance allows designers to achieve 20dBm easily at the antenna for applications like wireless access points and PCMCIA cards operating in the 2.4GHz frequency band, the company said.

The amplifier operates at a typical current consumption of about 240mA, or about 50mA to 70mA less than other power amplifiers with the same output. Its low current consumption is said to result from integrated power control and detect features, as well as an efficient silicon germanium structure that provides high thermal conductivity and low junction temperature.

- John H. Day

EE Times

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