TI Beefs Up DSL Chip
The AR7 collapses the three chips of its predecessor, the AR5, into one. (The AR6 never made it to market and, we suppose, resides in a locked basement like some genetic experiment gone horribly awry. Its technology got cannibalized for the AR7.)
Among the new features in the AR7 is a separate buffer for sending TCP/IP acknowledgements. This feature is significant, because in DSL connections, as in all IP links, packets are issued at both ends to confirm the receipt of information. A buildup of acknowledgements can slow things down. With the AR7, though, the packets get their own express lane out of the CPE.
"This particularly pays off in networked homes, because you've got more than one person sending information, which means acknowledgements build up," says Mike Spence, program manager for TI's broadband communications group. Removing the logjam can improve performance, he says, particularly when video is part of the mix.
TI also claims the AR7 can flesh out the iffy portions of a central office's coverage area. When the DSL modem connects for the first time, it's able to adjust for bridge taps and other influences that could otherwise make service slow or untenable. This is done with a combination of echo cancellation and time-domain equalizers.
TI also added a beefier microcontroller to the AR7, allowing the consumer's initial setup to go faster, which makes it feel easier. That might not sound like much, but TI officials are hoping a smooth installation can help reduce customer churn for service providers.
Spence claims 40 percent of all customer flips occur within 30 days of initiating service. "That tells us there are a lot of connection and dissatisfaction issues," he says.
TI isn't alone in attempting to address the growing market for improved DSL CPE. Mindspeed Technologies and GlobespanVirata Inc. (Nasdaq: GSPN) also are players; and Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) has such chips, though it is not as ensconced with the box makers as are TI and Globespan.
So far, though, TI seems to have a bit of a lead. The AR7 is sampling now, with production volumes due in the third quarter of this year. The chip is priced at around $20 in high volumes.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading