September 08, 2003, 9:11 AM — Wi-Fi won't weigh down handheld devices as much starting in the fourth quarter, as Broadcom Corp. introduces a single-chip component that provides IEEE 802.11b wireless LAN connectivity.
The company unveiled on Monday its AirForce OneChip, which is already shipping in sample quantities and will appear in devices by the end of the year, starting with PDAs (personal digital assistants), according to Jeff Abramowitz, senior director of wireless LAN marketing at Broadcom, in Irvine, California.
IEEE 802.11b wireless LAN technology, offering a maximum carrying capacity of 11M bps, is already available in some PDAs and in add-on devices such as cards that fit in Compact Flash slots. Broadcom says the integration of the whole Wi-Fi system into a single chip means less drain on a PDA's battery as well as lower cost and smaller size. OneChip consumes an average of 85 percent less power than other Wi-Fi systems on the market, according to Broadcom. Existing Wi-Fi components on handhelds can consume half the battery's power, halving battery life, Abramowitz said.
Future applications of OneChip could include digital cameras, MP3 music players and Wi-Fi VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) phones, he said.
The market for Wi-Fi on handheld devices has not been large so far and Broadcom is looking to seed that market with the new hardware, analysts said.
"Clearly the hope is that now that this is available, developers of systems that previously wouldn't have looked at wireless LAN ... now will look at it," said Gartner Inc. analyst Joe Byrne.
Though Stamford, Connecticut-based Gartner is optimistic about the integration of wireless LAN capability into PDAs, the consulting company is more cautious about its popularity on cell phones, Byrne said.
Cell phones already communicate with a network and increasingly have fairly high-speed wireless data access through technologies such as CDMA2000 1x (Code Division Multiple Access) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). In addition, they have fairly small screens and limited features for data input, said Gartner analyst Michael King. The higher speed connectivity offered by Wi-Fi could be overkill, he said.
"It's akin to hooking a fire hose up to a drinking fountain," King said.
However, there may be some situations in which Wi-Fi would come in handy on a combination PDA-phone, Gartner's Byrne said. For example, an employee who carries that device into a meeting at company headquarters might want to access e-mail via the corporate wireless LAN rather than the carrier's data network because it's faster and there are no service charges.