IBM, MediaTek to develop wireless broadband technology

IBM and MediaTek plan to team up to develop and market mmWave technoloogy to replace WiFi.

IBM and Taiwanese chip designer, MediaTek, announced a three-year pact to develop wireless chipsets for a new technology to transmit large volumes of information, such as full-length high definition (HD) movies, between DVD players, HD-TVs, hand-held devices or other gadgets around the home or office.

The chipsets will use IBM Labs' [mmWave] (millimetre wave) radio technology as a faster wireless networking alternative to Wi-Fi.

The companies will promote mmWave as a way to eliminate wires between HD-TVs, set-top boxes, DVD players and PCs.

They will focus their efforts on improving the range of mmWave technology, and developing a manufacturing technique for the chipsets, vice-president of sales and distribution for global engineering solutions at IBM Asia-Pacific, David Faircloth, said.

IBM has spent the past four years developing mmWave technology. Last year, the company demonstrated prototype chipsets the size of a US dime able to wirelessly transmit uncompressed HD video.

The US technology giant will work with MediaTek to further develop the chipsets. IBM will put its mmWave radio chips, antenna and package technology and patents into the venture, while MediaTek will bring its expertise in digital baseband and video processing chips to the table, the companies said in a joint statement.

Once the chipsets are ready, IBM and MediaTek will both work with global electronics partners to adopt mmWave technology in their products. MediaTek has had great success in selling mobile phone and baseband chips in China, a market most companies globally are itching to take advantage of. The Taiwanese company is estimated to be the largest mobile chipset provider in the country by some analysts.

Over the course of the development project, IBM and MediaTek expect to move the chipset from the existing 130-nanometre manufacturing process on silicon germanium, to a 65nm manufacturing process on the most widely used chip manufacturing technology, CMOS (Complementary metal-oxide semiconductor).

The companies face hurdles with mmWave. They will have to develop an entire ecosystem for the technology, including gaining acceptance for its use in products, possible industry standards and radio spectrum space. They will also have to pit it against potent rivals, including WiMax wireless broadband, which is also faster than Wi-Fi. WiMax is backed by a number of heavy hitters, including Intel and Motorola.

Faircloth said IBM's market influence can help with building an ecosystem around the technology, and pointed out that both IBM and MediaTek can turn to global partners to help with adoption of the technology as well.

IBM was not immediately able to answer questions about the performance of mmWave transmitting data wirelessly through walls or other barriers inside a home or office.

Most of the work on the mmWave chipsets will take place in three locations, at IBM's TJ Watson Research Centre, IBM's Tokyo Research Lab and MediaTek's Hsinchu facility, and involve engineers from both companies.

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Dan Nystedt

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