Networking

TI debuts Wi-Fi chip for phones, PDAs

Motorola will be the first handset maker to use Texas Instruments' new chip, which packs three Wi-Fi standards into into a piece of silicon small enough for a cell phone.

Texas Instruments plans to unveil on Wednesday a new Wi-Fi chip small enough for cell phones and personal digital assistants.

Motorola will use the silicon inside its hybrid cell and Wi-Fi phone, expected to debut next year, said Marc Cetto, general manager of TI's wireless local area business unit. Cetto said TI is talking with other handset makers, but he didn't provide details.

The chips pack the three popular Wi-Fi standards--802.11b, 802.11a and 802.11g--into a piece of silicon small enough for a cell phone's cozy confines, Cetto said. He said competitors, such as Broadcom, "just announced an 802.11b-only chip for mobile space last week, but they are just catching up to the chip we've been shipping for a year."

Calls to Broadcom were not immediately returned.

The chips are among the latest Wi-Fi silicon from major chipmakers, including Broadcom, Royal Philips Electronics and Atheros Communications, that are meant for mobile devices. When used inside an office, phones with the chips inside can tap into a Wi-Fi wireless network to make calls that travel over the Web rather than over a telephone network. Outside the Wi-Fi network's 300-foot range, the handsets switch calls automatically to a cellular network, which offers the same data features and voice calling, but at much slower speeds.


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The new chips overcome some of the key obstacles in integrating Wi-Fi on portable devices and help to encourage the latest theory in the wireless industry that Wi-Fi can be a complement to next-generation cellular networks. The move to integrate the two technologies is relatively new and will likely be a gradual process. But having hardware available that can support both Wi-Fi and cellular networks is a significant step.

But most of these chips are a notorious battery drain, making them a difficult sell to handset makers. Cetto said TI's newest chip consumes significantly less power. Atheros recently introduced a similar, power efficient Wi-Fi chip for mobile devices.