Qualcomm Atheros

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Qualcomm Atheros
FormerlyAtheros Communications
T-Span Systems
FoundedMay 1998; 24 years ago (1998-05)
FounderTeresa H. Meng, John L. Hennessy
HeadquartersSan Jose, California, USA
Key people
Craig H. Barratt, CEO 2003-2011

Jack Lazar, CFO 2003-2011
Rick Bahr, Head of Engineering 2000-2013
Bill McFarland, CTO 1999-2015

Colin Born, Corporate Development 2005-2014
ProductsEthernet, WLAN, Bluetooth, GPS, powerline communications, hybrid wired/wireless, location

Qualcomm Atheros is a developer of semiconductor chips for network communications, particularly wireless chipsets. Founded under the name T-Span Systems in 1998 by experts in signal processing and VLSI design from Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley and private industry. The company was renamed Atheros Communications in 2000 and it completed an initial public offering in February 2004 trading on NASDAQ under the symbol ATHR.

On January 5, 2011, it was announced that Qualcomm had agreed to a takeover of the company for a valuation of US$3.7 billion. When the acquisition was completed on May 24, 2011, Atheros became a subsidiary of Qualcomm operating under the name Qualcomm Atheros.[1]

Qualcomm Atheros chipsets for the IEEE 802.11 standard of wireless networking are used by over 30 different wireless device manufacturers.[2]


Qualcomm Atheros Headquarters in San Jose, CA

T-Span Systems was co-founded in 1998[3] by Teresa Meng, professor of engineering at Stanford University and John L. Hennessy, provost at the time and then president of Stanford University through 2016.

The company's first office was a converted house on Encina Avenue, Palo Alto, adjacent to a car wash and Town & Country Village. In September 1999, the company moved to an office at 3145 Porter Drive, Building A, Palo Alto.

In 2000, T-Span Systems was renamed Atheros Communications and the company moved to a larger office at 529 Almanor Avenue, Sunnyvale. Atheros publicly demonstrated its inaugural chipset, the world's first WLAN implemented in CMOS technology and the first high-speed 802.11a 5 GHz technology.}

In 2002, Atheros announced a dual-band wireless product,[4] the AR5001X 802.11a/b. In 2002, Craig H. Barratt joined Atheros as vice presidents and in March 2003 became CEO.[citation needed]

In 2003, the company shipped its 10-millionth wireless chip.[5] In 2004, Atheros unveiled a number of products, including the first video chipset for mainstream HDTV-quality wireless connectivity.

In 2005, Atheros introduced the industry's first MIMO-enabled WLAN chip,[6] as well as the ROCm family for mobile handsets and portable consumer electronics.

In 2006, Atheros announced its XSPAN product line,[7] which featured a single-chip, triple-radio for 802.11n. In this same year, they began to collaborate with Qualcomm on a product for CDMA and WCDMA-enabled handsets.

In 2008, Atheros announced the Align 1-stream 802.11n product line for PCs and networking equipment.[8]

In 2010, Atheros shipped its 500-millionth WLAN chipset[9] and 100-millionth Align 1-stream chipset. They released the first HomePlug AV chipset with a 500 Mbit/s PHY rate.


On February 12, 2004, Atheros completed its initial public offering on the NASDAQ exchange[10] trading under the symbol ATHR. Shares opened at $14 per share with 9 million offered. Prices on the first day ranged up to $18.45 and closed at $17.60 per share.[11] At the time, Atheros had approximately 170 employees.[citation needed]

Acquisition by Qualcomm[edit]

In January 2011, Qualcomm agreed to acquire Atheros at $45 per share cash. This agreement was subject to shareholder regulatory approvals.[12] In May 2011, Qualcomm completed its acquisition of Atheros Communications for a total of US$3.7 billion. Atheros became a subsidiary of Qualcomm under the name Qualcomm Atheros.

After the acquisition, the division unveiled the WCN3660 Combo Chip, which integrated dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and FM into Qualcomm Snapdragon mobile processors. Qualcomm Atheros launched the Skifta media shifting application for Android[13] and released the first HomePlug Green PHY at the end of the year.

In 2012, Qualcomm Atheros announced a Wi-Fi display product at the Consumer Electronics Show 2012,[14] along with a new chip for HomePlug AV power line networking. At Mobile World Congress 2012, Qualcomm Atheros demonstrated a suite of 802.11ac enabled products.[15] This included the WCN3680, a mobile 802.11ac combo chip targeting smartphones and tablets. In June 2012 at Computex, Qualcomm Atheros added new 802.11ac products.[16]


  • WLAN – Qualcomm Atheros offers wireless connectivity products, including their Align 1-stream 802.11n chips, and the XSPAN 2-stream with SST2 and 3-stream with SST3 chips for 802.11n. The Align 1 also supports WLAN for mobile with up to 150Mbit/s PHY rates for smartphones and portable consumer electronics. Qualcomm Atheros also offers legacy WLAN designs for 802.11a/g.[17]
  • PAS/PHS In March 2005, Atheros introduced the AR1900, the first single-chip for personal handyphone system (PHS), which was widely deployed in China, Japan and Taiwan at the time. PHS, or personal access system (PAS) as it is known in China, was a digital TDMA-TDD technology operating at 1.9 GHz providing high-quality voice, advanced data services, and long battery life.
  • Power line communication (PLC) – Qualcomm Atheros is a member of the HomePlug Powerline Alliance. Its AMP brand of powerline chips support the IEEE 1901 global powerline standard that supports high-definition multimedia and real-time gaming at a 500Mbit/s PHY rate. Low powered chips, such as those built for HomePlug Green PHY, are targeted toward smart grid and smart home applications.
  • Ethernet – Qualcomm Atheros offers the ETHOS line of Ethernet interfaces, as well as the low-energy EDGE line, which supports the IEEE 802.3az-2010 Energy Efficient standard.
  • Hybrid Networking – Qualcomm Atheros' hybrid networking technology, Hy-Fi, integrates WLAN, PLC, and Ethernet technologies. The technology, which complies with the IEEE 1905.1 standard for hybrid home networking, is capable of detecting the optimal path for data to be transferred at any given moment.
  • Location Technology – In 2012, Qualcomm Atheros announced its IZat location technology. The technology uses multiple sources, such as satellites and WLAN networks, to pinpoint the location of the user.
  • Bluetooth – Qualcomm Atheros offers Bluetooth chips for a variety of platforms. The company also offers integrated combo WLAN and Bluetooth chips.
  • PON – Qualcomm Atheros passive optical network (PON) technologies incorporate standards such as IEEE 802.3ah, multiple-channel, software-based, digital signal processing for the G.711 and G.729 ITU standards for VoIP, and TR-156 Broadband Forum PON standard.


  • CodeTelligence – SDIO software/firmware developer, acquired in 2005.
  • ZyDAS Technology – a USB Wireless LAN company headquartered in Hsinchu, Taiwan, acquired in 2006.[18]
  • Attansic Technology – a Fast and Gigabit Ethernet chip maker headquartered in Taiwan, acquired in early 2007.[19]
  • u-Nav Microelectronics – a GPS chipmaker headquartered in Irvine, CA, acquired in 2007.[17]
  • Intellon Corporation – a public company with powerline communication (PLC) for home networking, networked entertainment, broadband-over-powerline (BPL) access, Ethernet-over-Coax (EoC), and smart grid management applications. They were acquired in late 2009.[20]
  • Opulan Technology Corp – EPON broadband access technology developer in Shanghai, China, acquired in August 2010.[21]
  • Bigfoot Networks – an Austin, Texas-based company acquired in September 2011, with application-aware networking technologies that are being marketed under the trademarked brand-name of StreamBoost.[22]
  • Ubicom – a company known for their processor and software designed to optimize network data, acquired in February 2012.
  • DesignArt – small cell chip company that combined several radio technologies on a single chip, used to provide wireless backhaul to smaller base stations. Acquired in August 2012.[23]
  • Wilocity - a fabless semiconductor company focusing on IEEE 802.11ad (60 GHz) was purchased by Qualcomm in July 2014.

Free and open-source software support[edit]

Support for Atheros devices on Linux and FreeBSD once relied on the hobbyist project MadWifi, originally created by Sam Leffler and later supported by Greg Chesson. MadWifi later evolved into ath5k.[24] In July 2008, Atheros released an open-source Linux driver called ath9k for their 802.11n devices.[25] Atheros also released some source from their binary HAL under ISC license to add support for their abg chips. Atheros has since been actively contributing towards the ath9k driver in Linux.[26] Atheros has also been providing documentation and assistance to the FreeBSD community to enable updated support for 802.11n chipsets in FreeBSD-9.0 and up.[27]

The flexibility and openness of ath9k makes it a prime candidate for experiments around improving Wi-Fi. It is the first subject of a FQ-CoDel-based radio fairness improvement experiment by Make-Wifi-Fast.[28] The driver has also been modified by radio hobbyists to broadcast in licensed frequency bands.[29][30]

The article comparison of open-source wireless drivers lists free and open-source software drivers available for all Qualcomm Atheros IEEE 802.11 chipsets. The most recent generations of Atheros wireless cards (802.11ac and 802.11ax) require non-free binary blob firmware to work,[31][32] whereas earlier generations generally do not require non-free firmware.

Atheros was featured in OpenBSD's songs that relate to the ongoing efforts of freeing non-free devices.[33]


  1. ^ "Qualcomm Atheros :: Corporate :: Press Releases". Archived from the original on September 7, 2012.
  2. ^ Companies that use Atheros wifi chips
  3. ^ "BYLAWS OF T-SPAN SYSTEMS CORPORATION (a Delaware corporation) As ..." www.lawinsider.com.
  4. ^ "Intersil - ISIL | Stock Discussion Forums". www.siliconinvestor.com.
  5. ^ "10-millionth wireless chip".
  6. ^ "Atheros takes on Airgo, Broadcom with new chip set, security software". EETimes.
  7. ^ "Atheros' XSPAN Dual-Band Solutions Selected for Wi-Fi CERTIFIED(TM) 802.11n Draft 2.0 Test Suite | SYS-CON MEDIA". www.sys-con.com.
  8. ^ "Best Wi-Fi Routers for a Large House or Office Reviews (2018)". Hardware Central. February 19, 2018.
  9. ^ "Atheros Ships 500 Millionth Wi-Fi(R) Chipset | SYS-CON MEDIA". www.sys-con.com.
  10. ^ "Best Wi-Fi Routers for a Large House or Office Reviews (2018)". Hardware Central. February 19, 2018.
  11. ^ "Atheros IPO brings big $ now, Cisco soon?". Tom's Hardware. February 13, 2004.
  12. ^ [1][dead link]
  13. ^ "Skifta Launched".
  14. ^ "Qualcomm Atheros Introduces First Generation of Wi-Fi Display-enabled Connectivity Solutions | SYS-CON MEDIA". www.sys-con.com.
  15. ^ "Qualcomm Atheros launches 802.11ac product ecosystem". www.telecompaper.com.
  16. ^ "Qualcomm Atheros demonstrates portfolio of 5GHz Wi-Fi networking solutions". DIGITIMES.
  17. ^ a b "Products". Qualcomm. May 30, 2014.
  18. ^ "ZyDAS Technology".[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ Attansic acquisition
  20. ^ "Intellon acquisition". Archived from the original on January 2, 2010.
  21. ^ "Opulan acquisition". Archived from the original on September 17, 2010.
  22. ^ Bigfoot Networks acquired
  23. ^ Ubicom acquisition
  24. ^ "About/History - madwifi-project.org - Trac". madwifi-project.org.
  25. ^ "news/20080725/ath9k-atheros-unveils-free-linux-driver-for - madwifi-project.org - Trac". madwifi-project.org.
  26. ^ "en:users:drivers:ath9k". Linux Wireless. Retrieved September 2, 2019.
  27. ^ "dev/ath(4) - FreeBSD Wiki". wiki.freebsd.org.
  28. ^ Høiland-Jørgensen, Toke; Kazior, Michał; Täht, Dave; Hurtig, Per; Brunstrom, Anna (2017). Ending the Anomaly: Achieving Low Latency and Airtime Fairness in WiFi. 2017 USENIX Annual Technical Conference (USENIX ATC 17). USENIX - The Advanced Computing Systems Association. pp. 139–151. ISBN 978-1-931971-38-6. Retrieved September 28, 2017. source code.
  29. ^ "[v2,1/3] ath9k: Support channels in licensed bands". Linux Kernel Patchwork. Retrieved September 2, 2019.
  30. ^ "Using WiFi Atheros chips in hamradio bands". Radio Adventures (yo3iiu).
  31. ^ "Firmware files for ath10k, a mac80211 driver for Qualcomm 802.11ac devices: kvalo/ath10k-firmware". August 31, 2019 – via GitHub.
  32. ^ "Firmware files for ath11k, a mac80211 driver for Qualcomm 802.11ax devices: kvalo/ath11k-firmware". August 31, 2019 – via GitHub.
  33. ^ "OpenBSD: Release Songs". www.openbsd.org.

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