If your iPhone feels sluggish when it’s in a Wi-Fi hotspot, let’s hope that Apple is considering Broadcom’s latest chip – a smaller and cheaper piece of silicon that uses “N,” the fastest Wi-Fi technology available.
The Irvine chipmaker has long been supplying Apple and other cell phone makers with chips to make smartphones smarter. This is because Broadcom manages to take several technologies and shrink them into a single chip. Besides the faster Wi-Fi, Broadcom’s latest chip, the BCM4329, includes Bluetooth and an FM radio. By combining these three features into a single chip, it occupies “10 to 33 percent” less space on a phone leaving more room for other stuff, like a bigger battery, keyboard, or camera.
Broadcom says its new chip provides 50 Mbps of “actual wireless throughput.” That’s one fast download! Keep in mind, however, Internet speed is limited to the speed the phone company offers so AT&T’s current 3G Internet service is much slower. However, transferring files between two ‘N’ devices should be much faster.
As for the FM function, Broadcom added FM transmit so users can transmit music from the phone to a car’s speaker system using an unused FM station. It also has FM receiver, which is FM radio.
To get a better understanding of what this all means, Chris Bergey, Director of Broadcom’s Embedded WLAN line of business, answered some questions:
Question: Is this the first time Wi-Fi-(n) has been on a mobile chip?
Broadcom: Some of our competitors have announced intentions of doing 802.11n for mobile devices, but none will integrate the amount of analog components as the BCM4329. Broadcom has already shipped millions of combo chips, so we’ve overcome much the learning curve in bringing these solutions to market.
Q: Is this the first time Wi-Fi (n), Bluetooth and FM have been on one chip?
B: This is Broadcom’s second-generation product with all three technologies. The previous chip had 802.11g, which cannot offer the speed or coverage of 802.11n. The new chip also adds FM transmit capabilities to allow mobile phones and media players to support more audio applications.
Q: Does this mean that, for example, if the next iPhone offered these features, it could be even smaller or thinner?
B: The size of a mobile device mainly depends upon many factors, including the size of its battery. The BCM4329 not only takes up less space, but consumes less power — which can help to reduce the battery that is required for mobile products.
Q: How much is the new chip? And how much this would save a company over buying separate chips?
B: Actual pricing depends on volume, so it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact savings. The beauty of the BCM4329 is that there is virtually no price premium for adding 802.11n versus our previous combo chip with 802.11g.
Q: On that note, could you also offer an estimated space savings this chip has over separate chips?
B: There are many design decisions that affect a system’s size, but on average, the BCM4329 can save 10 to 33 percent. … This is an estimate for the size of the solution, not cost. Cost is a trickier claim to support, since every design is unique and each every customer engagement is based on different volumes. The only thing we can really say is that we’ve integrated so many components onto the chip (including the power amplifiers), that manufacturers can shave up to 75 cents off the bill-of-material costs.
B: We expect that our customers will begin shipping phones with the BCM4329 in late 2009.
Q: Is this the most significant advance Broadcom has offered the mobile industry this year?
B: Wireless combination chips are definitely one of our most important advancements for the mobile industry this year. As the handset becomes the centerpiece for both communication and entertainment, consumers want more features to download, share and enjoy content on their phone. Combo chips make it cheaper and easier for handset manufacturers to add the wireless technologies that make such features possible. The BCM4329 is the next step in our combo initiative, adding even greater capabilities while continuing to drive down the size, cost and power consumption of mobile systems.
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