CES 2012: Suppliers Display IEEE 802.11ac Compliant Chips, Fabless Startup Releases CMOS Based Integrated RF Front-End For Smart Meters

Using pure 0.18 µm CMOS technology, this integrated front-end IC for 2.4 GHz based smart meters and wireless sensor networks integrates key RF front-end functions-- power amplifier, LNA, antenna switch and Tx/Rx transceiver port-- on a single CMOS die.

Well, first let me wish you all a Happy and a Healthy 2012.
Now, we all know that the popular International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week will display all sorts of fancy new consumer gadgets, including the hyped Ultrabooks. Amongst the devices that enable these products will be RF ICs. Demonstrating a variety of RF ICs will be some known and some emerging semiconductor suppliers.

For instance, Broadcom Corp and nascent Quantenna Communications will be displaying their IEEE 802.11ac compliant chipsets for the emerging fifth generation (5G) Wi-Fi, which is a major leap for the current 802.11a/b/g/n wireless solutions.

According to Broadcom, its 5G Wi-Fi chips will dramatically improve wireless range and data rates to enable consumers to watch HD video, and transfer large amounts of data to and from more devices simultaneously.

Broadcom’s family of 5G Wi-Fi ICs include BCM4360, BCM4352, BCM43526 and BCM43516. While the dual-band transceiver chip BCM4360 implements the 3-stream 802.11ac specification to enable speeds up to 1.3 Gbps in access points, routers, DSL/cable gateways and PC products, BCM4352/ BCM43526 incorporates the 2-stream 802.11ac specification to enable speeds up to 867 Mbps. However, BCM4352 supports PCIe interface and BCM43526 is designed for USB interface. Likewise, BCM43516 employs single-stream 802.11ac specification to enable speeds up to 433 Mbps in PC and consumer electronics products. The supplier said that these single-chip dual-band transceiver ICs integrate all the major functional blocks needed to implement a complete 802.11ac wireless sub-system, including radio, baseband and MAC.

Similarly, Quantenna Communications will demonstrate QAC2300 chipset for gigabit-speed IEEE 802.11ac wireless local-area networking (WLAN) solution, which includes a new 4×4 MIMO digital baseband chip and the corresponding 802.11ac compliant radio transceiver IC.

Smart Meters and Wireless Sensors

Eyeing the emerging markets for smart meters and wireless sensors, fabless semiconductor startup RFaxis has readied a pure 0.18 µm CMOS based integrated front-end for these applications. Labeled RFX2401C, this second generation chip incorporates all three RF front- end functions- power amplifier, antenna switch and filters- needed for 2.4 GHz IEEE 802.15.4/ZigBee, AMR/AMI, wireless sensor networks, wireless audio/video and other ISM applications.

Hence, the RFX2401C chip comes complete with a high-efficiency power amplifier (PA), low noise amplifier (LNA), transmit and receive port switch, antenna switch, impedance matching network, harmonic filters and CMOS control logic all integrated onto a single CMOS die and delivered in an ultra-compact 3x3x0.45 mm 16-lead QFN package.

Operating in the 2.4 – 2.5 GHz range with 50 Ohms impedance for RF ports, RFX2401C offers 22 dBm saturated output power in transmit mode and is capable of delivering 100 mA output current. In the receive mode, the RF front-end is rated for 2.4 dB noise figure (NF) with -8 dBm input P1dB.

According to the supplier, the new CMOS based RFX2401C is pin-compatible with its biCMOS predecessor RFX2401 that has been designed into multiple platforms using major IEEE 802.15.4/ZigBee chipsets including Atmel, Beken, Freescale, Nordic, NXP, and Texas Instruments, among others. RFX2401C is in volume production, said the maker.

Also, the supplier said that RFX2401C has been designed into AirMicro’s AM-207S, high-power ZigBee module, which will be displayed in the ZigBee pavilion. The product is ready for mass deployment in countries like China, Vietnam and Japan.

AirMicro, Inc. is a leading wireless system, module development and consulting venture company in Japan. It’s fifth generation ZigBee module AM-207S incorporates ST Microelectronics’ STM32W, a complete IEEE 802.15.4 SoC based on the STM32 microcontroller architecture featuring an advanced 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3 processor. The high-power AM-207S module is capable of delivering +22 dBm transmit power with significantly improved receive sensitivity due to the supporting RF front-end RFX2401C, according to RFaxis’ marketing director Yongxi Qian.

Until now, integrated RF front-end solutions have depended on compound semiconductor technologies, but RFaxis has developed techniques that enable its designers to deliver such a solution in cost effective CMOS process, asserted Qian.

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