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Monday, February 06, 2006
IBM Promises 10 times Faster WiFi

IBM researchers showcased a small, low-cost chipset that could allow wireless electronic devices to transmit and receive ten times faster than today's advanced WiFi networks.

Using the IBM-pioneered chip-making technology called silicon germanium, the chipset is able to send and receive information in a portion of the radio spectrum that is both unlicensed and can carry a much higher volume of data, a key advantage as data-intensive digital media formats, such as HDTV, become more pervasive.

The chip is based on the evolving IEEE 802.15.3c specification for wireless communication, which utilizes frequencies higher than the Wi-Fi or any other wireless standard. IBM said that the chip operates at a clock speed of 60 GHZ, far faster than the standard 2.4 gigahertz or 5 gigahertz speeds that WiFi wireless networking chips use today. In the lab, Gaucher said IBM's prototype chip could transfer data at 630 Mbps, and could improve in a few years to anywhere from 1 gigabit a second to 5 gigabits a second.

IBM's team of researchers will present a paper on the chip at the International Solid State Circuits Conference this week in San Francisco.

Previous chip designs attempting to exploit this spectrum have been too large, expensive and difficult to integrate with the rest of their products. Their use often required the purchase of multiple separate components and access to specialized skills.

IBM's design and use of silicon germanium technology permits a high level of integration in the chips themselves. The embedding of the antennas directly within the unique chipset package helps further reduce system cost since fewer components are needed. As an example, a prototype chipset module, including the receiver, the transmitter, and two antennas, would occupy the area of a dime. By integrating the chipset and antennas in commercial IC packages, companies can use existing skills and infrastructure to build this technology into their commercial products.

Some applications that might now be possible using this 60 GHz technology include wireless personal-area networks (PANs) for intra-office communications in the 10m and below range. PANs are designed to support wireless Gb Ethernet, wireless display, wireless docking station, synchronization of PDAs with desktops/laptops, and wireless downloading of pictures from a camera. Similarly, the technology could enable wireless broadband video distribution, in which a 60-GHz link could be used to stream an uncompressed high-definition video signal from, for example, the DVD player to the plasma display mounted on the wall.

Several electronics companies are considering whether to use the chips in their products, but IBM did not name them.

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