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IBM trots out wireless chip for high-def files

The promise of short, wireless networking is here again, but Big Blue says its new chip covers all the bases.

If you dream of a living room without a tangle of cables connecting the DVD player to the TV to the stereo, IBM has come up with the chip for you.

The company has produced chips based on the evolving 802.15.3c specification, which will be capable of passing high-definition files and other content at distances of around 5 to 10 meters, said Brian Gaucher, research staff member at IBM. Current samples of the chip run right now at more than 600 megabits per second, he said. The goal is to get these chips up to 1.4 to 1.5 gigabits per second.

"We're looking at this for consumer applications, like high-definition video transfer," he said. "You can get conference room coverage. We are not really looking at wall penetration."

A wireless chip that can transfer files rapidly over short distances has long been a goal of the tech industry but universal acceptance has proved elusive. Bluetooth spent years in standards committee. Although currently embedded in products, it has hardly become a universally used standard. Bluetooth also did not become a wireless standard for getting to the Internet, something backers originally envisioned. Similarly, Universal WideBand, or UWB, got stuck in standards stalemate for a while.

The chips from IBM rely on the portion of the radio spectrum from roughly 30 to 300 GHz, which is known as the "millimeter wave frequency bands" because the actual length of the electromagnetic wave in a signal in these bands is measured in millimeters. Right now, mostly military contractors use this space, in part because the equipment required to carry these signals adequately has been expensive and difficult to produce.

"If you can do it in silicon, you can start to think about consumer applications," Gaucher said. IBM's chips based on this standard are faster than UWB chips, he said. UWB lets people handle larger data transfers at 110 megabits per second between devices less than 32 feet from one other or 480mbps speeds at about 10 feet. The IBM chips are also not affected by line-of-sight issues.

IBM has sent samples to customers who are tinkering with ways to put chips like this into products. Customers can buy chips from IBM, or license the intellectual property behind the design to build their own chips.

Along with the chip, IBM has created a package with an integrated antenna. This cuts down costs and power consumption.