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Comms chips

Turbo g Gets Faster

Agere Systems Inc. (NYSE: AGR.A) is claiming the latest speed record for 802.11g chips, achieving 150 Mbit/s using a software-based approach. Meanwhile, Atheros Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: ATHR) announced a new version of its Super G technology for fast 802.11g.

It's the latest round in the continuing 802.11 one-upsmanship among Agere, Atheros, Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), and a host of others. Atheros had used a band-doubling technique to get to 108 Mbit/s (more on that in a moment), but Agere announced today it can up the ante with a technique combining data compression with quality of service (QOS).

The latter comes courtesy of the 802.11e standard, and it includes such traffic-slimming diet tips as frame bursting and the removal of some acknowledgement overhead. On top of that, Agere added data compression to get to 150 Mbit/s.

"We picked 150, but there's nothing that says you couldn't go higher or lower for different data types," says Frank Ferro, Agere's WiFi director.

Agere's "turbo mode" is achieved entirely in software and will ship with all of Agere's 802.11a/g chips starting in the third quarter. A few customers have their hands on early versions and are using them now, Ferro says.

While there's no hardware cost added, Agere plans to charge a little more for turbo mode, as its OEM customers are likely to do the same. "If you look at a Linksys or a Netlink [product], they have a 20 to 30 percent price delta for the faster solution," Ferro says.

Atheros, meanwhile, has dynamic turbo, its latest twist on Super G. Today, the company announced a new Super G using "adaptive bandwidth" technology, which combines with 802.11e tricks and standard data compression to produce throughput of more than 60 Mbit/s.

It's not as grand as 108 Mbit/s, but it's safer. A key element of Atheros's technique is "channel bonding," which lets the 802.11g radio use more spectrum but can cause interference in the 2.4GHz band, translating to problems for nearby 802.11b and g equipment. Broadcom pointed this out to the world at November's Comdex show, and today's announcement appears to be a concession to that problem. Atheros officials did not immediately return a call for comment.

At the time, Broadcom officals said they weren't sniping at Atheros. This kind of not-sniping is not uncommon in 802.11's short history, as quite a few potshots were not hurled Broadcom's way during its deployment of pre-standard 802.11g chips (see Interop Woes Smite 802.11g). — Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading
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