Texas Instruments has produced a chip tailored for voice over wireless LAN that integrates IP telephony into the chip maker's popular mobile phone hardware platform.

The integrated package, designed to make it easier for handset makers to produce VoWLAN gear, adds 802.11g support to TI's lineup, which previously relied on the slower 802.11b standard. Finished products are expected to be available by the end of this year, with Ascom Wireless Solutions, one of Europe's biggest makers of enterprise wireless handsets, already signed up.

TI has made a reference platform available for the TNETV1600 chipset, and has released images of a prototype device, which resembles a medium-sized conventional cordless phone. Because the TNETV1600 is based on TI's OMAP16xxTM architecture, widely used in mobile phones, the company said phones using the chipset would have standby and talk time comparable to conventional mobile phones.

The company's other IP phone products include the TNETV1050, aimed at high-end IP phones, and the TNETV1055 for bare-bones handsets. The advantage of the newer chipset is its integration of everything a handset maker needs, including software, into one package. TI claims more than 80 percent of IP phones currently use the company's technology.

Businesses are growing interested in IP telephony largely for its cost-savings - calls routed over IP networks are potentially far cheaper and more flexible than those made over conventional phone lines. By 2009, over half the world's PBX user terminations will support IP, according to research firm Gartner, which recommends businesses integrate their VoIP and WLAN strategies. Business travellers armed with a wireless IP phone could theoretically place cheap calls over any wireless LAN access point in the world, TI and other IP phone proponents say. A few handsets on the way also add cellular services such as GSM, though the kinks are still being worked out of WLAN-cellular interoperability.

"The combination of VoIP and WLAN is a very promising platform for the onsite communication field," said Ascom chief technology officer Stefan Bramberg.

While wired IP telephony is becoming an attractive option for many companies, wireless VoIP still faces hurdles. The existing WLAN infrastructure (most enterprise access points and the public hotspots found in airports and coffee shops) isn't capable of supporting more than light VoIP traffic. Industry analysts say recent advancements aimed at improving the situation will take time to become commonplace, if they ever do.

Support for 802.11g may also be of limited usefulness. While 802.11g is compatible with 802.11b, only one standard can be used at once - if any client on an 802.11g access point is 802.11b, the transfer rate drops for all clients. Other limitations in 802.11g make 802.11a more suitable for enterprise VoWLAN, according to analysts, but the standard is not currently as widely used as g and b.

TI's chip couples the OMAP architecture with WLAN silicon and the company's Telogy VoIP software. The package includes the TLV320AIC22C dual-channel audio codec, for integrating both handset and headset on one chip, and power and battery management. The OMAP16xx architecture is based on a TMS320C55x digital signal processor (DSP) core and an ARM926 processor core.

The TNETV1600 supports session initiation protocol (SIP), Linux and a microwindows graphical library.