Atheros announces fast, two-radio gateway, USB adapter, revised single-radio gateway: Chipmaker Atheros announced today that it has dramatically expanded the variety of its Draft N reference designs to include the smallest form factor USB 2.0 after-market adapter and two new routers, including a dual-radio access point that can achieve 400 Mbps in aggregated TCP/IP throughput. Reference designs are licensed to manufacturers which modify and package them as unique products.
Atheros faces sharp competition from Airgo, Broadcom, and Marvell in the general market for providing Wi-Fi chips to manufacturers of consumer and enterprise equipment - the so-called OEM or original equipment manufacturer - and additionally from Intel in putting Wi-Fi into laptops. Intel would prefer its computer-making partners buy the whole Centrino Core 2 Duo shebang from them, Draft N chips included. These new designs are clearly aimed to ensure Atheros's manufacturing partners have the largest range of possibilities with the least amount of independent engineering.
In a briefing last week, Atheros's vice president of marketing Todd Antes said the firm sees the inflection point for Draft N products outpacing 802.11g products coming by 2008 as consumer products with Draft N become less expensive and more available, along with integration of Draft N adapters in notebooks and computers. "It's no longer just the early adopters," Antes said, who use Draft N.
Atheros is particularly excited about the addition of a USB 2.0 Draft N adapter to their line-up. The 5 cm/2.5 in.-protuding radio rounds out their existing portfolio of PCI, PCI Express. Antes said that after-market USB adapters for Wi-Fi now outpace other form factors by two to one, partly due to the wide availability of USB ports on devices that lack other user-accessable card slots. The USB adapter will be available in a few configurations, including 2.4 GHz only and 2.4 GHz/5 GHz dual band.
The two other designs announced today are access point/router combinations: a single-radio unit that employs AP-on-a-chip technology for low cost; and a dual-radio unit that can push through as much as 200 Mbps per radio of TCP/IP throughput, Antes said. The single-radio gateway will target the consumer segment; the latter, enterprise, SMB (small-to-medium-sized businesses), and high-end consumers.
The dual-radio unit includes one 2.4 GHz radio and can include a second radio that's either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz; the Ethernet flavor is gigabit. The reference design can be in an access point configuration, with just a single gigabit Ethernet port, as is often found in enterprise models, or it can be integrated with an internal gigabit LAN switch. (Atheros recently introduced its own Ethernet products, starting with 10/100 Mbps, and will add gigabit for all-Atheros silcon products later this year.)
The dual-radio router could be configured with one N and one G radio, allowing the device to use 5 GHz for Draft N and 2.4 GHz for 802.11g. This would reduce cost and produce a single device that was backwards compatible for older networks without sacrificing performance for newer dual-band adapters.
One of the most common questions I receive about Draft N is this: how best to merge old and new networks, or whether a new access point can simultaneously serve 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. If the price point is right, I expect one of the consumer Wi-Fi gear makers like D-Link or Linksys could push millions of units to higher-end consumer households.
"I think we're going to start to see use cases in which the 2.4 GHz band is used predominantly as the data band," Antes said. The 2.4 GHz band would carry data in which latency, fast throughput, and other timing issues weren't important. The 5 GHz band could be used for file transfers, voice, and media applications, Antes said.
Atheros's single-radio router replaces an existing unit that requires more chips and a non-Atheros Ethernet package. The new reference design is available in 2.4 GHz only and dual band configurations.
Antes said that the enterprise market would kick in this year, too, with firms using Draft N products in corporate-grade equipment by late 2007. Atheros has a significant business in supplying chips to enterprise firms like Aruba, Cisco, Colubris, Juniper, Nortel, Trapeze, and others. Atheros also drives most of the metro-scale products, including Proxim, SkyPilot, Strix, and Tropos. Ruckus is also a customer; see today's related announcement.
Atheros will demonstrate these new designs at a trade show in Taiwan in two weeks.