Market Insight

Qualcomm gets serious about Low-Power Wi-Fi with new chips

September 06, 2013  | Subscribers Only

Lee Ratliff Lee Ratliff Senior Principal Analyst, Connectivity & IoT

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Qualcomm Atheros announced an updated family of low-power Wi-Fi chips today (6th September) at IFA 2013 in Berlin. The QCA4002/4004 family is intended to address the looming Internet of Things (IoT) market. The IoT market is often characterized by a specific set of traits which stand in stark contrast to typical Wi-Fi clients – very low power consumption, minimal processing capability, low bandwidth, and low user interaction.

The QCA4002/4004 family is the successor to the AR4100/4100P family which has been in production for over a year. The AR4100/4100P family never found significant traction in the market due in part to its 1st-generation features and performance, but also because Qualcomm’s customer support infrastructure is built for million-unit customers rather than the mass-market nature of most IoT opportunities.

With the QCA4002/4004 family Qualcomm Atheros has addressed both issues.

First, Qualcomm Atheros has improved the chips. Better power management is made possible by reducing the wake-from-suspend time, a new wake-up manager (QCA4004 only) for improved sleep management, and a “Green TX” feature that constantly monitors the connection to the access point, and is said to reduce transmit power by as much as 50% while maintaining a solid connection. In addition, the QCA4002/4004 family features a dual-band transceiver, increased memory, and antenna diversity (in the QCA4004). Finally, instead of the multi-die System-in-Package (SIP) scheme used by the AR4100/4100P family, QCA4002/4004 is a single die in a QFN package, enabling a less expensive board layout and a single-voltage power supply.

Second, Qualcomm has improved support for smaller customers and lower volumes by bringing on Future Electronics as a distribution channel and making available a flexible reference platform with Arduino shield compatibility. 

Perhaps most significantly, the QCA4004 is capable of “hostless” operation, important for many applications with cost, resource, and space constraints. Application code can run from the on-chip processor and, like the AR4100P, the new family incorporates an IP stack and full networking services on-chip, eliminating the need for these resources in a host. In addition, the QCA4004’s wake-up manager allows the chip to take advantage of sleep modes without requiring an external wake-up.

The QCA4002 is in full production today, while the QCA4004 is sampling today with production set for the fourth quarter. The QCA4004 is being demonstrated at IFA 2013 in an air conditioner and a washer/dryer combo, both made by the appliance manufacturer, Haier.

IHS tracks the low-power Wi-Fi market as part of its Low-Power Wireless Quarterly Tracker & Intelligence Service, which presents market sizing and projections for the uptake of 15 low-power wireless technologies, within 10 applications.

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