Atheros Moves Forward with Wireless VoIP

Last week, wireless chipset developer Atheros Communications announced that its 802.11a/g tech is featured in new equipment from Japanese equipment maker ICOM, including a wireless access point and router specifically designed to support wireless VoIP.

ICOM’s AP-5100VoIP access point and SR-5200VoIP2 router are the first products using Atheros chips to target wireless VoIP, according to the company. The products, which utilize Atheros’s AR5004X 802.11a/g chipset, are targeted at small- to medium-sized businesses.

According to Masataka Harima, director and general manager of the Media Technology Division at ICOM, the announcement also represents ICOM’s first products developed in partnership with NTT DoCoMo.

Key selling points
Atheros business development manager Alex Liu says his company’s chips were selected specifically thanks to their QoS and power saving capabilities. The chips’ APSD (Automatic Power Save Delivery) functionality allow the radio to sleep even during an active voice call, switching to a low power state in the milliseconds between voice packets.

“You can spend over 80 percent of the time in a low power state, and only wake up when you actually have a voice packet to transmit and to receive,” Liu says.

The company’s Super AG technology, Liu says, was another key selling point. The technology uses methods including packet bursting, fast frames, and data compression to significantly increase throughput, delivering speeds that are 1.5 to 2.0 times faster than standard 802.11g or 802.11a/g products. “We can demonstrate link rates up to 108 Mbps,” Liu says.

Ease of use
Atheros also recently announced its ROCm (Radio-on-Chip for Mobile) product line, which Liu says has significant implications for wireless VoIP. A central focus for the ROCm line, Liu says, is ease of use.

And ease of use is key to wireless VoIP. Although scanning for SSIDs and then associating with an access point may seem easy enough when you’re using a laptop at a hotspot, it’s much more difficult with a handheld device. “The display and the input capabilities are much more limited in that form factor,” Liu says.

In addition, Liu notes, phone users comprise a different class of consumers from laptop users. “You’re talking about your parents—who may or may not be technology-savvy, but probably are less so than yourself,” he says. “They’re accustomed to basically turning on their cordless or cell phone, and being able to dial a number and call their friends.”

The Wi-Fi toaster
In order to ensure ease of use for wireless VoIP, Atheros has initiated JumpStart for Wireless, an open source project which automates pairing between wireless devices with the push of a button. “I would say that ease of use is the most significant new feature addition as we entertain mobile and embedded form factors for Wi-Fi carrying voice,” Liu says.

That applies to any device, from a phone to an MP3 player—including, say, a future Wi-Fi-enabled iPod Shuffle. “How do we address the class of devices known as headless devices—that is, those without display capability?” Liu asks. “This could be your toaster—it could be anything—but a more plausible example would be compressed media players like the Shuffle. JumpStart would be absolutely critical to getting those devices on the network.”

Liu says JumpStart isn’t particularly different from competing technologies like Broadcom‘s SecureEZSetup—the key difference is that it’s open-source. “We think that Wi-Fi, especially embedded and mobile Wi-Fi, is so open-ended that we can’t possibly think of all the applications for which it would be used,” Liu says. “So we think we’re better off taking a more laissez-faire approach to it.”

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