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Comms chips

Intel Goes MIMO

Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) has unveiled its first Centrino wireless LAN chipset upgrade using pre-standard 802.11n MIMO technology. The chipmaker promises up to five times the data transfer rate, twice the range, and better laptop battery life with its new product.

The Intel Next-Gen Wireless-N network connection uses "multiple input, multiple output" (MIMO) antenna technology to improve performance. Vendors have been hyping "pre-n" technology as providing data rates anywhere from 108 Mbit/s to 300 Mbit/s plus.

The slow progress of the prospective 802.11n standard picked up this week with the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) approving another draft. The standard is now expected to be ratified as early as next summer. (See 802.11n Takes a Step Forward .)

Intel is also trying to overcome some of the interoperability issues involved with the pre-standardized chipsets and gear with its own "Connect With Centrino" program. The chipmaker is working with SOHO access point makers such as Buffalo Technology (USA) Inc. , D-Link Systems Inc. , and Netgear Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR) to ensure that its pre-n product works with a range of appliances. APs that work with the Wireless-N silicon will be certified and badged by Intel.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is planning to work on pre-n chipset interoperability. Intel, however, is clearly not willing to wait for the trade body to ensure that every little thing works together.

The chipmaker is using its stature in the market to try and gain an edge over other vendors of wireless silicon. Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) is the current leader in pre-n chips, closely followed by Atheros Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: ATHR) and Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL).

Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. predicts that "Intel's entry will likely prompt an upgrade cycle in the access point market." The financial analysts predict that pre-n chipsets will be one of the factors that helps drive the overall WiFi chipset market to grow by 25 percent this year.

"We expect 802.11n chipset orders to rebound in the next 1-2 quarters and believe that a combination of maturing technology, declining prices, and other positive catalysts could drive chipset demand to about 30-35 million units in 2007," writes Merrill Lynch's Srini Pajjuri in a research note.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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