Broadcom Bringing Video to Wi-Fi Phones

By Eric Griffith

January 05, 2006

The company is releasing a three-chip combo reference design with the goal of enabling useful video telephony on 802.11-based handsets.

Put together three chips: a multimedia processor, a mobile Voice over IP (VoIP) processor, and 802.11g/b silicon with all the Wi-Fi bells and whistles, and what do you have? Broadcom says the combo is the "world's first Wi-Fi video phone chipset."

The silicon and associated software are on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, part of a handset reference design the company will also be licensing.

"Video telephony... people have talked about it for 40-plus years," says Randal Hrytzak, Product Line Manager for Broadcom's VoIP products. "There's always the promise of making it cheap and easy to use, but all people have had access to are a range of software-based applications for PC-based video." He says that the announcements of video support by companies like Skype — which finalized its version 2.0 with video support today — have created a lot of interest: "From the consumer perspective, it's the most natural way we could communicate — if we make it usable technology."

Hrytzak says the company's support for full-duplex video technology like H.263 and H.264 will address the issues experienced with past video calls to "deliver the sort of quality consumers expect."

Since video phones haven't exactly taken the world by storm a la Jetsons, even on computers, why move to wireless? Broadcom says consumers today expect cordless, portable telephony. "They don't want tethers to the PC or broadband modem," according to Hrytzak. "We want to converge the technology."

The three Broadcom chips are the BCM2702 for video, BCM1161 for VoIP (it supports SIP calls, 3-way calling, speakerphone and other features), and the BCM 4318 for Wi-Fi. The last includes baseband and MAC on a single chip, and supports the litany of Broadcom extras such as BroadRange range extension and SecureEasySetup for one-button activation of security up to WPA2 with 802.1X authentication.

The company expects the phones, when they become available from vendors sometime in 2006 or 2007, to be available primarily from service providers who will have to build the underlying network support. While the phones by themselves could communicate while on the same WLAN, there's no guarantee as yet that they'll work with services from Vonage or Skype or others without those providers signing on. As for future convergence of this with cellular phones, Broadcom was hesitant to say too much, but says it's paying close attention to cellular/Wi-Fi convergence. 

No customers are signed up yet to make the phones, but the company says the handsets based on their reference design should cost less than $200, depending on the variations in cost for plastics, the LCD screen, and other specs from the OEM.

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