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Startup targets 'an Internet of things'

Posted: 18 Feb 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wireless embedded? Internet? chip module 802.11b?

Startup ZeroG Wireless officially throws its hat into the ring of competitors trying to bring wireless to embedded systems. The company claims its new chip and module could bring 802.11b connectivity to new lows in cost, size and power consumption.

"We are targeting an Internet of things like a thermostat, where there's not a lot of data but there also is a need for configuration control," said Tim Colleran, VP of marketing at ZeroG.

The company hopes to find design wins in a wide variety of embedded systems from coffee pots and toys to sensor networks in building and industrial automation. It estimates that market could amount to as many as nine billion sockets.

The company's ZG2100, built in 180nm process, supports up to 2Mbit/s data rates. It includes a baseband, media access controller, power amplifier and hardware acceleration for Wi-Fi security standards such as WEP, WPA and WPA2.

The chip uses a host controller to run part of its code. It requires as little as 367bytes of RAM and less than 10Kbytes of ROM from a host microcontroller, according to the company. It can run without an OS.

ZeroG will also ship the chip as part of a module, the ZG2100M, which includes required passives and an integrated antenna. The company has struck a partnership with Microchip Technology Inc. so that its module will support Microchip's existing Internet Protocol (IP) software, tools and development kits.

The module is shipping now and will cost $16 in 10,000 unit quantities when it is in production sometime before April. The chip itself will cost less than $5 when purchased in million-unit quantities.

The company is in the process of getting certification for the module from regulatory bodies in Canada, Europe, Japan and the United States. The device will be on display at the Embedded Systems Conference in San Jose in late March.

ZeroG has taken $30 million in two rounds of funding so far, the last closing in 2008 from investors including Battery Ventures, Greylock Partners and Morgenthaler Ventures. "We have a pretty good runway in front of us," said Colleran.

Internet connectivity fray
The startup faces a range of competitors trying to squeeze Internet connectivity into the tight power, cost and size budgets of sensor networks and other embedded systems.

For example, Gainspan Corp. announced a Wi-Fi chip in May 2008 that it claims can run for ten years on a single AA battery. It has gained a design win with one thermostat maker and has deals with third parties who will provide modules.

"We should be announcing some major wins in the next few months," said Bernard Aboussouan, VP of marketing at Gainspan. "Financially, we are doing well with no need to raise money for at least 12 to 18 months, and our prospects are very good in smart energy home, building automation, asset tracking and cold storage monitoring," he added.

Another competitor, G2 Microsystems Inc., launched in October 2008 its chip, which includes interfaces for RFID and sensor networks. The chip is now in production and a module using it will ship in a few weeks.

"At CES, we demonstrated a wireless speaker and Wi-Fi headphones," said Lisa Payne, VP of marketing at G2. "We have developed other Wi-Fi peripheral device demos for Wi-Fi personal area networks [PANs] and believe we are a good fit for battery-powered PAN devices," she said.

"Due to the economic climate, we decided not to do any fundraising before the end of the year," Payne added.

Colleran said the competitors are full SoC designs that drive greater costs than ZeroG's part, which leverages an existing host controller.

Many other chipmakers are trying to serve similar markets with networks such as Zigbee. Indeed, many companies and standards groups are defining IP capabilities for embedded and sensor networks over Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and 802.15.4 nets.

Colleran described Zigbee as a good point-to-point and mesh network. "But it wasn't really designed to connect to the Internet and offer configuration capabilities via an iPhone or Blackberry with Wi-Fi," he said.

Separately, startup Ozmo has tailored a Wi-Fi chip for use in short-range PANs at data rates as high as 9Mbit/s.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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