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Mobile-WLAN combo faces power conundrum

Posted: 16 Apr 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:interoperability? wlan? wan? WiFi? 802.11?

Before telecom manufacturers work on technology to enable WANs, Bluetooth, and WiFi to work seamlessy, they have to address several issues that are hindering the integration of cellphones and PDAs into WiFi paradise, observes Electronic Engineering Times - Asia's Majeed Ahmad.

Majeed Ahmad is Managing Editor of Electronic Engineering Times - Asia
Nobody saw it coming. Until the year 2000, WLAN technology was just a niche with 802.11 specification having three PHYs: direct-sequence spread spectrum, frequency-hopping spread spectrum, and infrared. Then a segment of industry started to promote direct sequence as the technology of choice for PHY transmission. That proved a turning point as prices of WLAN products came down sharply in the next couple of years, resulting in a mass deployment in the United States.

Popularity of WiFi took everyone by surprise, including mobile-phone industry stalwarts. And now when doubts are looming over cellular industry's ambitious projects, such as mobile Internet and 3G, WiFi networks have become the vanguard of wireless growth around the world.

But while many in the industry are eyeing WiFi as a role model for the wireless future, a complex world of ecosystem issues is awaiting design engineers. Power consumption, for instance, will be a biggie in the coming years.

Power management will especially be critical if WiFi adopts new form factors to expand its usability models. So far, users seem happy with being able to access the Internet over their notebook computers. Some even argue that notebooks can be a better client than PDAs and cellphones as they download more information.

While people cannot stick 802.11-enabled notebooks in their pockets, cellphones, and PDAs are not quite there yet. Their inclusion in the 802.11 arena, however, could bring new joys to the "WiFi moment."

Texas Instruments Inc. has recently announced a tri-wireless cellphone/PDA design concept called Wanda that incorporates the trifecta of GSM/GPRS, WLAN, and Bluetooth connectivity. Though TI is featuring WiFi on a separate chipset, the chipmaker may subsequently try to integrate it onto the baseband chip.

Meanwhile, a number of cellular operators are deploying hot spots to accelerate the integration of WLANs into a more ubiquitous cellular space. But cellular and WiFi remain as two separate network entities. Moreover, WLAN roaming arrangements are still not in place as billing and business models continue to evolve.

Nevertheless, 802.11 and cellphone worlds are increasingly becoming synergistic; a number of firms are working to employ SIM card technology for WLAN billing and authentication. Such developments clearly lead to new possibilities that can be realized as a result of converged wide-area and local-area networking.

For the big picture, telecom dream weavers are starting to renew a wireless triumvirate in which cellular WANs at the higher end and Bluetooth-backed PANs at the lower end, would work seamlessly with the WiFi space. Before we get there, design engineers will have to deal with issues like leakage current to solve the power conundrum that is hindering the integration of cellphones and PDAs into the WiFi nirvana.

- Majeed Ahmad

Electronic Engineering Times - Asia

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