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TI shrinks its Wi-Fi chips

Texas Instruments next week plans to unveil its first Wi-Fi chips specifically designed for mobile devices such as cell phones and PDAs.

Texas Instruments next week will unveil its first Wi-Fi chips specifically designed for mobile devices, such as cell phones and PDAs.

A TI representative said the chips address two concerns that mobile devices makers have about the networking technology: it requires both a lot of power and large chips. Wi-Fi, also known as 802.11b, is used to create a 300-foot zone in which electronic devices can connect without wires.

The new chips are about 44 percent smaller than the company's previous Wi-Fi chips, which were for laptop computers. That makes them a more comfortable fit inside the limited space of a cell phone or PDA (personal digital assistant), the representative said.

In addition, the new TI chips reduce power consumption tenfold. They go into a low-power "stand-by" mode about 95 percent of the time, the representative said.

TI plans to ship the chips to device makers in about six months, according to a company spokeswoman, who declined further comment.

The move is "an aggressive one" for the chipmaker, said wireless analyst Will Strauss of market research company Forward Concepts. TI stepped into the Wi-Fi business in June 2000 after buying Alantro, a developer of wireless local area networks.

TI now ranks fourth in terms of Wi-Fi chip market share, trailing Intersil, Agere Systems and Philips Semiconductors, Strauss said.

Recent moves by Nokia to sell Wi-Fi phones and by cell phone service providers such as T-Mobile to add access to Wi-Fi networks has likely helped push TI into redesigning its chips, Strauss said.

The company had to make the chips small because there is limited room inside a cell phone. And to best accommodate Wi-Fi networks, they also have to consume less battery life so that users "don't have to recharge (their) cell phone twice a day," Strauss said.

"They have made no bones about putting 802.11 into cell phones," Strauss said. "They are very aggressive. Their plan is to move up the ladder quickly."

TI can expect competition from the likes of Qualcomm, which intends to put Wi-Fi capabilities into some of the tens of millions of cell phone chips it sells every year.