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Comms chips

IceFyre Rocks the Living Room

After dabbling in 802.11a (54 Mbit/s over the 5GHz band) for a while, IceFyre Semiconductor Corp. today announced plans to ship complete 802.11 chipsets, announcing the SureFyre chipset for 802.11a and TwinFyre for 802.11a and g (54 Mbit/s over 2.4 GHz).

The new chips pit IceFyre -- not to be confused with fellow "y" fetishists Stryper -- against competitors such as Atheros Communications Inc. and Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) that have been shipping product for months. IceFyre has been around since 2001 but didn't get its chips out to public view until early 2003 (see IceFyre Moves Into Dual Mode).

Arriving fashionably late for the party [Fashion Ed. note: And in blue eye-shadow and spandex], IceFyre hopes to stand out by targeting consumer electronics, which some companies think will begin to increasingly incorporate wireless LAN technology. Along those lines, IceFyre announced it's won over Sharp Electronics Corp. as a customer, although the companies aren't divulging Sharp's product plans.

"Atheros and Broadcom are duking it out for the laptop and PC markets, and for Taiwanese market share," says Mark Roberts, IceFyre vice president of marketing. "But consumer markets are evolving rapidly, and the requirements are drastically changed for this class of device."

New wirelessly enabled consumer products such as handheld devices and high-definition TVs could combine to represent 60 percent of the 802.11 chip market by 2006, says Will Strauss, president of research firm Forward Concepts Co. In particular, the 5GHz 802.11 could find its niche in the Japanese living room.

"Japan prefers a because of the cleaner band [2.4 GHz is more crowded] and the higher speeds they can get for video," Strauss says. "With thinner walls and smaller houses, [the reduced range available over] 5 GHz is no problem for them."

But IceFyre might put more emphasis on the handheld market, since the company has always touted the low power consumption of its chips. A proprietary signal-splitting trick that operates within the 802.11 standard keeps power consumption down to 720 mW even at 54-Mbit/s operation, the company claims.

Of course, other companies have similar plans. Magis Networks Inc. and Bermai Inc. are developing 802.11a chips with an eye toward consumer markets, and Atheros made its own low-power pitch with a chipset announced last month (see Bermai Buffs Up and Atheros: Range Master?).

The three pieces of SureFyre -- the media access controller (MAC), the baseband/radio chip, and the gallium arsenide (GaAs) power amplifier -- are sampling, with volume production of the full chipset due to begin in the first quarter of 2004. The four-piece TwinFyre set, which includes a 2.4GHz radio and a PHY that works at 2.4 or 5 GHz, is slated for volume shipment in the third quarter of 2004. Those dates are about six months behind the schedule IceFyre laid out in March.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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