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Cirrus: Wireless A/V Networks Due Early 2002

The Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b) and Wi-Fi5 (802.11a) wireless-network standards will migrate from the PC world to the consumer electronics market in early to mid-2002, when chipmaker Cirrus Logic predicts that CE suppliers will begin selling products that distribute audio and video around the house.

Some of the products might be demonstrated at January’s International CES, said Bob Bennett, marketing VP of Cirrus’s wireless-networking division.

The products would feature Cirrus’s proprietary second-generation Whitecap protocol, which can be used to add multimedia and Quality of Service (QoS) enhancements to any of IEEE’s wireless 802.11 network standards, Bennett said. The protocol eliminates digital-data-packet collisions to prevent streaming audio and video interruptions.

Many of Whitecap’s attributes will be incorporated in an optional IEEE QoS standard dubbed 802.11e, which suppliers can add to their IEEE-standard wireless-network devices (see page 24). The 802.11e standard will probably be finalized in the second quarter of 2002.

Whitecap2 and 802.11e will open up the market for consumer electronics companies to offer networked digital set-top boxes, personal video recorders, residential gateways, mobile web pads, wireless MP3 players, and digital audio and video jukeboxes, Cirrus said.

Unlike first-generation Whitecap-equipped Wi-Fi devices, Whitecap2 devices will be able to communicate with Wi-Fi products that lack Whitecap, although the connections won’t benefit from Whitecap’s enhancements, Bennett noted. Whitecap2 products will be software-upgradeable to 802.11e, he added.

Timetables: To open up availability of Whitecap2-equipped products, Cirrus has begun producing its Bodega reference design, a suite of ICs, software and firmware on which finished goods can be built. Bodega incorporates the Wi-Fi 2.4GHz 11Mbps standard.

Bodega-based finished goods will be available in the first half of 2002, Bennett said.

Cirrus’s Hermosa reference design, intended for 5GHz 54Mbps Wi-Fi5 products, will be available in sample quantities by year’s end, with finished goods expected by mid-2002, he said.

Whitecap-equipped Wi-Fi devices support multicasting of a single DVD-quality videostream at an average 5Mbps to multiple TVs even while PC files are being transferred wirelessly, said Bennett. Whitecap-equipped Wi-Fi technology also supports multiple VHS-quality videostreams of an average 1.5Mbps each, he noted.

With Whitecap-equipped Wi-Fi5 products, consumers will be able to simultaneously stream multiple DVD-quality videostreams, he said.

Range rover: Whitecap also extends wireless range, Bennett said, because it uses a technology used by DirecTv to interpolate lost packets on the fly.

“When you lose a lot of packets the connection is lost, but Whitecap dramatically improves the packet error rate,” he explained.

As a result, Whitecap will typically deliver Wi-Fi’s full 11Mbps data rate up to 150 feet, while “most 802.11b products peter out at 100 feet,” he said. The 802.11b products start to step back their data rate at about 60 feet to 80 feet in typical homes, he added. The rates steps back in increments of 5.5Mbps, 2Mbps and 1Mbps.

Whitecap also resists common household interference from 2.4GHz cordless phones and microwave ovens.

Cirrus Logic’s wireless networking division was formerly ShareWave, an independent company purchased by Cirrus in October.