Take a dart board. Attach the names of every supplier of ICs for wireless communications—e.g., receivers, transceivers and transmitters for mobile phones, navigation devices, notebooks and tablets. Then start firing darts. You’ll hit all those companies as they try to integrate functions like multi-standard and mixed-signal processing onto one chip. If you who didn’t attend engineering school, multi-standard is the capability to support various wireless standards; mixed-signal means having both analog circuits and digital circuits on a single semiconductor die (See sidebar). Integration allows CE manufacturers to reduce the number of electronic components they use, thus improving system quality and reliability and drastically lowering what’s called the bill of materials— the cost of these components. By using an integrated solution, the product design can be extremely small, consume less power and take less time to develop.

Combo Chips

One overall objective of many CE manufacturers is to create a single RF transceiver with interface capabilities to a great variety of wireless systems. Texas Instruments’ WiLink 8.0 product family, for example, is a collection of 45-nanometer chips each integrating up to five different radios, setting the stage for next-generation mobile Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GNSS (a fundamental building block for all location-based solutions), NFC (a set of standards to establish radio communication between devices by touching them together or bringing them into close proximity) and FM transmit/receive applications. Each chip variant can be mounted directly on a PCB, and includes all required RF front ends and a complete power management system. According to TI, at the system level, the five-radio WiLink 8.0 chip offers a 60 percent cost reduction, a 45 percent decrease in size and 30 percent less power consumption compared to traditional multi-chip offerings.

Alphabet soup

ADC: analog-to-digital converter
CE: consumer electronics
CMOS: complementary metal oxide semiconductor
ICs: integrated circuits
LNA: low-noise amplifiers
MIMO: multiple input multiple output
NFC: near field communications
PCB: printed circuit board
RF: radio frequency

Similarly, Broadcom Corp.’s BCM4335 is a complete Wi-Fi combo chip for smartphones, tablets, Ultrabooks and other mobile devices. Broadcom introduced its newest family of Wi-Fi combo chips for access points and PCs at the 2012 International CES. The first routers and notebooks powered by BCM4335 were introduced to the market in Q2 2012. Smartphones and tablets powered by BCM4335 chips are expected to hit retail shelves in Q1 2013.
The chip supports the fifth generation of Wi-Fi based on the IEEE 802.11ac standard, a major step up from 802.11a/b/ g/n networks. The 802.11ac standard dramatically improves wireless range in the home, allowing consumers to watch HD-quality video from more devices, in more places, simultaneously. With speeds that are three-times faster, consumers can download Web content from a mobile device and sync large files such as videos in a fraction of the time it would take on a similar 802.11n device. Produced in a 40nm CMOS process, the new chips are smaller and more power efficient, giving CE product engineers more design freedom.

Related: Toward an All-Digital Radio