Wireless chip developer Marvell has come up with All-into-1, a scheme to pack five different 802.11g wireless Ethernet functions into a single box about the size of a pack of cards.
The idea is that the same 5-in-1 device could be used for several tasks, and while none of these is new on its own, putting all of them in a single device is, and highlights the company's densely integrated WLAN technology.
It could work as a wireless access point, say, allowing business travellers to establish a WLAN in a hotel room, or as a client device, adding wireless to a device which only has wired Ethernet built in. Alternatively it could be used as a repeater to extend the reach of a Wi-Fi network, or as a point-to-point or multi-point bridge, says James Chen, Marvell's product marketing manager.
Chen says that the pocketable device could be cheap enough to bundle with a wireless-enabled laptop, for example, ensuring that buyers have all they need to hook their new PC up to a home broadband connection.
"Today's products all have different functions, but with All-into-1 we are trying to integrate them all into a single device," he says. "We will have lots of automatic setup options."
All-into-1 is currently a reference design intended to help manufacturers design multi-function devices around Marvell's silicon, with AsusTek Computer being the first company to publicly say it will adopt All-into-1.
"One product won't necessarily have all five functions, a manufacturer may choose two or three," Chen said. He gave the example of a wireless repeater built into a mains plug, which could double the range of a WLAN.
Wireless networking is a new growth market for Marvell, which started out designing chips for hard disks - it still does Serial-ATA products, for example - before branching out into Gigabit Ethernet silicon for the likes of 3Com, Cisco and Dell. Its highly integrated chips are now at the heart of 802.11g wireless Ethernet products from a range of companies, including DLink, Linksys and Netgear.
"Wireless is a technology that refuses to remain boxed in on one platform such as a laptop," Chen says. "It allows us to come up with new ideas, such as where to put wireless next, and how to use it."