Broadcom Runs to Dualmode

Communications chipmaker Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) announced today that it is sampling its first dualmode wireless LAN 802.11a/b chipset, in anticipation of getting the silicon out on the market by the end of this year.

Broadcom will be among the first to introduce a dualmode WLAN chipset, according to Ken Furer, an analyst with IDC. He names Atheros Communications, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), and Intersil Corp. (Nasdaq: ISIL) as the other contenders.

"These really have to be the four that are available before the end of 2002," he says. "I'm not sure which will arrive first."

These chipsets will enable users to connect to existing 802.11b access points (APs) or take advantage of the higher transfer rates offered by 802.11a APs, depending on which is available. Analysts and vendors alike see "combo" WLAN cards as products targeted at enterprise customers. Current 802.11b cards tend to be marketed towards smaller businesses and consumers, although plenty of enterprises are using or experimenting with WLAN systems.

"I think dual-band solutions are for customers that want higher bandwidth and are prepared to pay for it," says Jeff Abramowitz, senior director of WLAN marketing at Broadcom. "That sounds like a business customer to me."

IDC's Furer says that his preliminary study of wholesale pricing of the different cards shows that the combo a/b cards will be the most expensive, at around $37.50 for the combined 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios, the baseband controller, the media access controller, and power supplies. In comparison, Furer says that a similar 802.11a card is around $29.50, while a standard 802.11b card comes in at about $19.50.

However, as the firms get to work on revisions of the dualmode chipsets something interesting happens. "The prices come down more dramatically on the combo than the other cards," Furer says.

This is because there is more opportunity for integration in the dualmode chipsets than the single band offerings. Most significantly, the dual radios can be combined into a single RF part.

By 2006, Furer expects that a combo card will cost around $20. This will put it in the same price bracket as an "a" card.

Although Furer sees the card market as major initial target market for the vendors, it is not the only market that the manufacturers are going after. Broadcom says that as well as NIC cards it will also work to get its dualmode chipset integrated into laptops. "We have very good relationships with all the major PC vendors," Abramowitz states.

This will take Broadcom directly into competition with Intel, as the CPU giant has said that it is targeting the laptop marketing, primping WLAN as "the new Ethernet" (see Intel Preps WLAN Blast).

Intel has not yet officially announced its dualmode WLAN chipset, although it says it expects to have product on the market by the end of the year. "We've not seen Intel yet," Abramowitz notes. Furer is also uncertain if Intel is sampling silicon at present.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung
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