Insider's Perspective on Wi-Fi Chip Makers (ATHR, BRCM, MRVL)

Includes: ATHR, AVGO, MRVL
by: Paul Callahan
Though I just recently wrote about Atheros (ticker: ATHR) and its worthy opponents, it is always useful to examine the details of the game from an inside perspective. Sometimes the smallest details are the most revealing — a flaw in execution, or an unstoppable competitive weapon. To that end, I recently pinged several well placed sources for insight into the latest trials and customer interactions for Airgo, Atheros, Broadcom (ticker: BRCM), and Marvell (ticker: MRVL).

1. Airgo has quietly landed some embedded deals, and has had them for an extended period of time. Samsung is shipping Airgo’s miniPCI modules in Samsung-branded PCs. These PCs are sold in the worldwide market outside of the US under the Samsung brand, while similar models without Airgo-inside are sold by Dell (ticker: DELL) around the world. Airgo has also has successfully inserted its chips into at least one security camera product — the Smartvue S2.

2. Atheros is winning handsets in Asia. As it has in the past, Atheros has put considerable effort into the Japanese market. Anyone who has attempted winning the likes of NEC (ticker: NIPNY), Sony (ticker: SNE), Matsushita (ticker: MC), and Toshiba knows that it is a multi-year affair. Building on relationships that span almost six years, Atheros has won a major handset deal in Japan and is continuing to win others in the embedded space. Atheros says it is also sampling its 802.11n/EWC products to strategic partners, but I haven't gotten any direct customer feedback yet on how these look.

3. Broadcom is very far along with its 802.11n/EWC product. The company’s ODMs are providing sample boards to major consumer networking companies with far greater performance than the Marvell solution. Even so, it is not clear how Broadcom’s solution compares to Airgo’s.

4. Marvell's 802.11n-based solution is not exactly reaching out. Marvell’s 802.11n reference designs are currently being shown to consumer electronics companies — and have horrendous performance. Sources say that Marvell’s 2x3 solution barely transmits two meters (6 feet) before failing. There are also major concerns about whether the Marvell solution is really EWC compliant. Marvell claims it is, and everyone else claims it isn't...