Plano, Texas-based SyChip Inc. used last week’s CES event in Las Vegas to showcase the announcement of its SyVoice WLAN7100 wireless VoIP module—an 802.11g Wi-Fi modem plus full VoIP functionality on a single chip—complete with drivers for the Windows Mobile OS.
“Wireless VoIP is a rapidly emerging market segment and an application that is very important for our Windows Mobile operating system,” said Joe Levy, Project Manager at Microsoft. “We are pleased that companies like SyChip are developing technologies for Windows Mobile that will help to enable the VoIP market.”
Initially announced last May, the WLAN7100 is now available for Linux, as well as Windows Mobile, and soon, versions for other OSs will be available as well. “Today, Linux is in full production, Windows is just about ready for production,” Frank Ferro, SyChip director of marketing told VoIPplanet.comm.. “We also have a Nucleus driver in beta, and first quarter we will be doing the REX port” Ferro said.
Since there aren’t a lot of Wi-Fi-capable wireless phones out there yet, it hasn’t been crystal clear to SyChip product managers which operating systems to port to, when.
“Initially it’s a split: about 50 percent Windows, 50 percent other embedded OSs,” Ferro said. “But we think that will probably settle out, and Windows will become the smaller proportion,” he went on. “Meanwhile, Windows is a good place for these companies to start as they’re kicking the tires on how they’re going to deploy VoIP. On the smartphone platform especially, they’ve already got all those features in there; why not add VoIP?”
The SyVoice module, first of a planned family of products for mobile handsets, marries SyChip’s established stock-in-trade—diminutive, PDA-scaled Wi-Fi network adaptors—with all the hardware and software necessary to add VoIP and data functions to a standard cellphone or PDA.
Into the bargain, SyChip engineers have made great strides to clearing one of the more troublesome hurdles to widespread adoption of voice over WLAN: power usage. Current specs claim the VoIP engine consumes less than 15mA of power during use, with the total solution—including the power-hungry WLAN components—using only about 150mA during a call. Which means a standard 1200mA-hour battery will let you talk for about eight hours. Standby time is calculated at 100 hours.
This is well up from the five-hour talk time, estimated when the WLAN7100 was first announced last summer. According to marketing director Frank Ferro, things are only going to get better. “They just keep chipping away and finding new ways to save power,” he told VoIPplanet. “Our engineering director is looking at about 100mA eventually.”
“They’ve made a lot of improvements in the driver and how we manage the power phasing,” Ferro continued. “It turns out, you sleep a lot—even during a conversation. We pretty much sleep after every packet is transmitted. The risk is you miss a beacon, but they have an algorithm that will compensate,” he concluded.
We asked Frank Ferro about the customer base for the WLAN7100. “The end-phone OEMs are the ones we’ve been targeting,” he said. “Pretty much everyone from Motorola down has taken a look at this. Right now the tier two and tier three accounts are very interested. They like the fact we provide all the software—a turnkey system.”
By contrast the tier one vendors, such as Nokia, prefer to add that value themselves, maintaining as much direct control as possible, according to Ferro.
While there are no phones utilizing the WLAN7100 in production today, that will soon change. “One of our customers is targeting to show off a phone at 3GSM in February, and we have another one in the Korean market that will be out some time after that,”Ferro told VoIPplanet.
Interestingly, in addition to the on-board single chip version, the WLAN7100 may also be available in compact flash card format, as an add-on. SyChip built a (slightly oversized) flash card version in order to demonstrate the module at the recent CES tradeshow. Engineers subsequently realized the unit could be redesigned into a standard CF4 form factor. While it was not initially intended to be a product, SyChip is thinking that it just might, given the right partner, end up on retail shelves.