Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Turning on 60 GHz radios

The WirelessHD group has its specification for 60 GHz radios for short range, high bandwidth home networking out for final review. It should be released within 60 days along with the names of new semiconductor companies now members of the group.

That was the news from an interview Tuesday with SiBeam, a startup formed to deliver CMOS chips based on the technology. SiBeam helped start the WirelessHD group which was announced last November.

The group was supposed to announce its spec in the spring, but the effort was delayed a few months. "All these standards efforts are like herding cats but the spec is essentially complete," said John LeMoncheck, chief executive of SiBeam.

The startup has a demonstration of a working 60 GHZ radio transmitting 1080-progressive video wirelessly over about 10 meters. It is based on an FPGA since the spec was too recently finished to support an ASIC implementation.

The 60 GHz spec will define two networks that work in tandem. A primary beam-forming 60 GHz network will deliver multiple Gbits/second of bandwidth for transmitting uncompressed high definition video between devices within a room.

A secondary omni-directional network capable of "tens of Mbits/second" will continuously look for and negotiate with devices within its 10 meter range. It will use device discovery techniques particular to the 60 GHz spec, but apparently will not interfere with any existing mechanisms supporting other device discovery techniques such as those defined by the Universal Plug and Play Forum.

LeMoncheck said SiBeam will be a fabless semiconductor company, focused on generating revenues from sales of its own 60 GHz CMOS chips. Any intellectual property royalties it generates will be modest or negligible, he said.

LeMoncheck was formerly a senior executive from Silicon Image which holds IP rights on the High Definition Multimedia Interface. HDMI requires royalties of about four cents per port, a charge some users have protested.

"It is not part of our business model to make significant money on IP. We want to compete in chip implementation," he said.

The startup clearly has the firepower to focus on chip design. It has hired two senior technical executives from Wi-Fi chip designer Atheros as well as another from Silicon Image. "I am really proud of the team we have assembled," said LeMoncheck.

The team includes George Palmer, former vice president of operations for PortalPlayer which made chips that powered many of the early models of the iPod. "He knows how to turn on a million units a month for big customers such as Apple," said LeMoncheck.

Other members of the WirelessHD group will deliver their own merchant silicon for 60 Hz radios. They aim to compete in bandwidth, ease of use, cost and power favorably with ultrawideband companies such as Pulse~Link, Tzero and Alereon which also aim at high-bandwidth wireless home networking applications.

SiBeam expects to announce its OmniLink60 products at or before the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

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