Intel researchers have figured out how to integrate all the elements needed to connect to wireless local area networks into a compact package.

Many companies have already built Wi-Fi chips that support the 802.11a/b/g standards, but those products require several other chips built onto the motherboard in order to connect to wireless networks.

Intel has now integrated components such as power amplifiers onto a single piece of silicon. It has also built connections from the amplifiers to external radio antennas on a single transceiver package, connections that used to be made with multiple pieces of silicon located outside the package, said Howard High, an Intel spokesman. A transceiver is a chip that can both transmit and receive signals.

All-in-one comms

The device currently supports 802.11a/b/g, but it should have enough bandwidth to also support the forthcoming 802.11n standard, High said. Intel believes the integrated design will help customers build cheaper and more power efficient devices, he said.

In order to build this package, Intel researchers had to solve several problems presented by an integrated design. For example, they had to figure out how to keep the power amplifier from interfering with the radio signal, High said.

By eliminating as many discrete chips as possible, Intel was able to reduce the power consumption of the package and lower the cost of building wireless networking technology into a notebook, mobile phone, or personal digital assistant, Intel researchers said in a paper outlining the accomplishment.

Two year warning

The current design is only a prototype, and additional testing and validation is needed before Intel will start producing the chip in large volumes, High said. Given that wireless communication chips also require government approval before they can be sold, Intel is probably at least two years away from selling these chips, he said.

Intel's ultimate goal is to build a communications chip that can connect to any type of network, be it a WiFi LAN, a wide-area network based on the WiMax technology it is heavily promoting, or personal-area networks like Bluetooth or UWB (ultrawideband), High said.

By 2007, the company expects to build an integrated chip with separate radios for the various networks, and hopes to eventually build chips with "cognitive" or software-defined radios that can connect to multiple types of networks on their own.

Intel showcased the prototype at the 2005 VLSI Symposium, an annual conference highlighting advances in semiconductor research. Intel, IBM, Advanced Micro Devices, Freescale Semiconductor, Nvidia, and many other chip companies presented research at the conference.