CMOS radio chip reaches 5Gbps, researchers say

Less costly wireless network products could result

An Australian research team unveiled a low-cost, single-chip CMOS radio that can deliver 5Gbps over about 30 feet. But a commercial chip may be three years away.

Australian researchers announced this week that they have created a 60GHz, CMOS single-chip radio that can transmit 5 gigabits per second over about 30 feet.

Others have created gigabit-wireless radios, also using millimeter wave technology. But the new radio, according to its creators, is the first to do so in one, low-cost CMOS chip. That's significant because it promises, eventually, much lower costs for the chip itself and for embedding the chip into a range of wireless products compared to other semiconductor technologies.

Several news sources are reporting that the researchers, part of National ICT Australia (NICTA), say the chip is about $9 (U.S.) or less, although that claim is not in the NICTA press release.

Gigabit Ethernet radios exist today, from companies such as BridgeWave Communications, but are used mainly in longer-range, point-to-point connections, often as alternatives to leased T-3 lines. Applying millimeter-wave technology to wireless LANs is drawing the interest of big companies and start-ups such as NewLANS, named as one of Network World's Wireless Companies to Watch. And another Australian research group, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, is working on 10Gbps in the 80GHz band.

But the NICTA chip's bandwidth is dramatic, bettering by 25% the performance of the WirelessHD (WiHD) specification, which was launched officially at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year after its first announcement in late 2006. Backed by a group of well-known chipmakers and consumer electronics vendors, WiHD is a digital interface that runs in the 60GHz band, delivers 4Gbps, a range of about 30 feet, and secure content protection. At CES, Panasonic and SiBeam showed the WiHD link streaming uncompressed high-definition video between a TV screen and a Blu-ray disk player. 

That's the kind of "in-room", short-range application targeted by NICTA's gigabit wireless research. The organization reportedly plans to spin off the research, raise funding and create a commercial version of the chip.

According to one report, that will take about $10 million, about one year to create production samples, and three years to produce in volume, a claim that some Web pundits such as Joel Hruska at Arstechnica find wildly optimistic. Hruska also points out that the NICTA chip draws 2 watts of power, a demand that makes it unfeasible for battery-powered handhelds.

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