Australian researchers have created a low-cost CMOS radio that can transmit 5 Gbits/s over about 30 feet, holding out the promise of cheaper Gigabit Ethernet radio in the mid-range future.

The new radio, from researchers at National ICT Australia (NICTA), is not the first Gigabit-wireless device using millimetre wave technology. However it is the first to do so with a single CMOS chip (in its case a 60GHz chip).

This raises the possibility of much lower costs for the chip itself and for embedding the chip into a range of wireless products compared to other semiconductor technologies. According to several news sources, the chip is about $US9 (£4.50).

Most other Gigabit Ethernet radios, such as from BridgeWave Communications, tend to be used in longer-range, point-to-point connections, often as alternatives to leased T-3 lines. Applying millimetre-wave technology to wireless LANs is drawing the interest of big companies and start-ups such as NewLANS.

Australia's huge Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) is also working on 10Gbit/s in the 80GHz band.

But the NICTA chip's bandwidth is dramatic. It betters by 25 percent the performance of the WirelessHD (WiHD) specification, which was launched officially at the Consumer Electronics Show earlier this year (after its first announcement in late 2006).

Backed by a group of well-known chip-makers and consumer electronics vendors, WiHD is a digital interface that runs in the 60GHz band, delivers 4Gbit/s, a range of about 30 feet, and secure content protection. At CES, Panasonic and SiBeam showed the WiHD link streaming uncompressed high-definition video between a TV screen and a Blu-ray disk player.

That's the kind of "in-room", short-range application targeted by NICTA's Gigabit wireless research. The organisation reportedly plans to spin off the research, raise funding and create a commercial version of the chip.

According to one report, it will take about $10 million, about one year to create production samples, and three years to produce in volume, a claim that some web pundits such as Joel Hruska at Arstechnica find wildly optimistic. Hruska also points out that the NICTA chip draws 2 watts of power, which is an unfeasible demand for battery-powered handhelds.