Texas Instruments has announced its third-generation Wi-Fi chipset, aimed at mobile devices such as PDAs and mobile phones, the latest product intended to bring together the worlds of voice and wireless networking.
The chipset, which TI says is half the size of its previous version, is part of a broader drive to cash in on the potential of combining increasingly ubiquitous and inexpensive wireless local area networks (WLANs), with voice over IP (VoIP) and wide-area network technologies, such as GPRS, GSM and 3G. The goal: phone handsets that use VoIP over the wireless LAN when in the office yet act as conventional mobile phones out on the street, and wireless data devices that use whatever networking technology happens to be at hand.
Such convergence devices aren't just nifty gadgets, according to industry analysts. Voice over IP promises such huge savings on phone bills that it has become one of the major reasons for enterprises to invest in a wireless LAN.
TI's chipset, announced on Monday, can be configured to work with the 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g standards, in b/g or a/b/g configurations. The two-chip set consists of the TNETW1250 MAC/baseband processor and the TNETW3422M radio frequency front end (RFFE) and power amplifier chip. TI said it takes up 25 percent less space than competing systems from companies such as Broadcom, Royal Philips Electronics and Atheros Communications, a prime concern for designers of tiny mobile gadgets.
Other improvements include lower power consumption on standby, 40 percent lower power consumption when in active use and better interaction with Bluetooth and other wireless technologies. Battery-draining power usage has been a problem with Wi-Fi-enabled gadgets in the past.
The TW1250 is designed specifically for voice over WLAN, TI said, as well as streaming media and roaming between access points - a key feature for corporate VoIP handsets.
Network providers are already coming out with WLAN-enabled VoIP handsets, points out Infonetics Research analyst Richard Webb, and adding GSM is the logical next step. "When you leave the building, you don't want to have to switch to another handset, another personal number, another messaging service," he said. "You want an all-in-one corporate handset. It will be the same as dual-mode handsets roaming on GSM 900/1800 networks."
The technology isn't quite there yet, he noted, with some work still to be done on roaming between the different types of networks, for example. "But I don't see why they shouldn't be able to figure that out, particularly if there are real revenue possibilities," he said.
On the data side, network providers are moving to bring together their Wi-Fi, GPRS and 3G offerings into a single wireless-broadband package. T-Mobile said last week that it will launch its 3G network in Germany, the UK and Austria along with devices that will hop between T-Mobile's 3G, GPRS and Wi-Fi networks, depending on which is available.
The Cloud, which operates several thousand UK Wi-Fi access points, or hotspots, is rolling out SIM authentication, where the SIM card from a mobile phone can also be used to authenticate to a Wi-Fi service, resulting in a consolidated bill. The Cloud claims to be the first to bring SIM authentication to the UK. The company is offering Wi-Fi/GPRS roaming and voice over Wi-Fi.
"The service you're subscribing to will eventually just be a wireless broadband service, and what sort of performance you get will depend on the physical infrastructure available where you are," Webb said.