PDA's Going Wi-Fi By Year's End

By Jim Wagner

July 12, 2002

SyChip believes they have a 802.11 card that won't suck the life out of the battery of PDAs and other handhelds, but consumers will have to wait until next year to use one.

SyChip, a Bell Labs spin off into the wireless arena, said earlier this week it's almost done making a card that puts Wi-Fi on PDA, digital wireless phones and ultra-thin laptops.

It's one of the first 802.11b (also called Wi-Fi) ventures into the world of super-small personal organizers and phones equipped with secure digital (SD) adapters, a form factor uses generally used for removable memory. Though many manufacturers are rushing to get a 802.11b SD card out to the masses, officials believe they are the first to actually do so.

The wireless LAN (WLAN) 6060 network interface card (NIC) isn't expected to be available to the public until next year; in fact, the card won't be ready for evaluation by anyone until the end of 2002. The likely reason for an early announcement is the reluctance many PDA and cell phone makers have with 802.11-powered cards, which use up an unacceptable level of battery power.

These days, most PDAs and phones connect wirelessly through a Bluetooth-enabled card. Bluetooth, which has only an effective range of 6-10 feet compared to 802.11b's 300 feet, is much more friendly to battery-powered devices. 802.11, with its higher throughput, translates to more processing power.

There are a number of chipset makers rushing to get Wi-Fi out to the public with battery-saving designs, IceFyre Semiconductor and Atsana Semiconductor are two of them. Both companies acknowledge the difficulties getting the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) standard usable. According to officials at IceFyre, Wi-Fi cards take up to 10 percent from a laptop's battery and even more from PDAs; Atsana technicians say the processing power needed to encode graphics in PDAs not only drains the device's juice but makes it literally too hot to handle.

SyChip officials say their Wi-Fi card is ideal for devices with limited battery power in them, with chip enhancements that reduce the "parasitics associated with the package architecture and reduction of the electrical distance between" the integrated circuits (ICs).

To do that, the company didn't go with either Atsana or IceFyre, but signed on Intersil Corp. to provide its PRISM 3 chip set design. SyChip believes the company's zero intermediate frequency (ZIF) architecture will eliminate many of the problems associated with Wi-Fi cards for handhelds.

Intersil's product documentation says its ZIF architecture eliminates the need for first mixer, oscillator and intermediate frequencies found in most cards (cutting down on size and power costs), without sacrificing performance.

The SyChip 6060 WLAN NIC supports Windows 2000/XP/CE (2.11 and up) and Palm OS 4 and higher. The card measures 1.25 x 1 x 1 inches.

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