by Andy Patrizio
Marvell’s Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC all-in-one package should have a little mercy on your utility bill.
Integrating a number of different signaling technologies onto a chip can be a challenge, because the last thing you want is the signals to overlap or cancel each other out. That’s why system-on-a-chip design is as much of an achievement in engineering as it is convenient.
SoCs are usually a CPU and chipset technologies, like networking and I/O. Marvell has done something different, combining 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and near-field communications (NFC) all into a single chip, the Avastar 88W8897.
The 88W8897 delivers 802.11ac Wi-Fi at speeds up to 867 mbps per channel via a 2×2 MIMO Wi-Fi arrangement, almost three times the speed of 802.11n. This chip supports dual band Wi-Fi, both 2.4 and 5 GHz frequencies and simultaneous dual-band connectivity, so you can connect via a laptop or tablet on one band and rebroadcast that signal like a base station on the other band.
In addition to 802.11ac support, the 802.11n support allows for Tx beamforming, a feature in Marvell processors that allow for a longer and wider range of coverage. This chip also features an integrated location engine which improves the ability of users to accurately determine their location in places where mobile services might be weak.
Marvell is targeting ultrabooks and tablet PCs, two markets where it has not previously played a major role. Marvell is claiming that due to the design, the chip can maintain an always on, always connected experience without draining the battery, which would be quite a feat given the drain Wi-Fi usually has on mobile batteries.
By combining the three functions of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC, the 88W8897 enables a rest of bill of materials (RBOM) footprint reduction of 40 to 50 percent in a device and cost reduction of 75 percent compared to previous wireless solutions.
“Marvell’s new Avastar chip seems like it will provide an easy way to enable all three technologies on new mobile computing and consumer designs. The addition of mobile MIMO and beamforming features will improve the user experience by extending a device’s signal strength over the wireless network,” said Adrienne Downey, director of manufacturing research at Semico.
Marvell has a series of ARM-based SoC processors called Armada, all targeted at different platforms. Those chips combine the usual SoC elements: CPU, GPU, networking and memory management. Downey said she would not be surprised if Marvell produces a single superchip.
“I think it is quite possible for them to combine this with the Armada application processor. I think that level of integration makes a lot of sense for the growing low-end smartphone segment,” she said.
While it’s clear that the new chips bring a number of improvements to the mobile market, there exist several opportunities for low-powered home appliances and consumer electronics to connect to your life more strongly than ever – without costing you any more each month.