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Summary:

Dual-band Wi-Fi and cellular handsets were popularized before the iPhone, but as the mainstream wakes up to the benefits of network hopping, more Wi-Fi enabled handsets should start popping up. But the dirty little secret (is it really a secret anymore?) is that Wi-Fi gulps power, […]

Dual-band Wi-Fi and cellular handsets were popularized before the iPhone, but as the mainstream wakes up to the benefits of network hopping, more Wi-Fi enabled handsets should start popping up. But the dirty little secret (is it really a secret anymore?) is that Wi-Fi gulps power, which diminishes battery life.


Realizing this, among the many announcements made at Mobile World Congress this week by big semiconductor firms such as Texas Instruments, Qualcomm (its QST 1100 offers Wi-Fi connectivity and more!) and Broadcom, two startups — Redpine Signals from San Jose, Calif., and Nanoradio in Kista, Sweden — came out with Wi-Fi radios they claim are power efficient.

Nanoradio scored a coup by getting Samsung Electro-Mechanics to package its chips into a module for device manufacturers to buy. Aside from the chip’s ability to offer low-power Wi-Fi, it’s also small. However, according to the Nanoradio web site, it only supports the 802.11b and 802.11g Wi-Fi standards, which leaves the current generation standard recommendation out.

Meanwhile, Redpine launched a low-power Wi-Fi chip that only works with 802.11n, primarily because the data streams are so much faster and because it means a smaller chip. As for power management, Redpine said its chip consumes less than 1mW of power when connected. That’s really good, but it’s hard to compare apples to apples when each chip has different features.

  1. stacey, thanks — great informative post.

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  2. I have an Iphone and when I use the Wifi a good bit I really don’t notice a major power drain, it does draw a little. I do however notice a good drain on my battery when I am using Bluetooth, my phone will not last more than a day+ with bluetooth on. I can go 2 days before my battery get really low with avg. talking(45min-90min), Wifi usage(20-30 minutes of airtime) and a couple of hours of IPOD use. I charge it once a night and never have any power issues. I really love the Dual-band feature web access is a bit slow through the AT&T network and at least 10x faster with a Wifi connection.

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  3. Nice article – however you consider 802.11n (I guess you meant this one) as the ‘current’ standard, when it should really be ‘newest recommendation’, as last I looked, it was still a draft. An infinitely higher number of access devices working on 802.11b/g are out there, and it makes absolute sense to keep on catering for them.

    As for power needs, I saw Nanoradio at the 3GSM three years ago, when they were still mostly under the radar, and it is very nice to see them progressing – and trying to bring power consumption down as much as possible. In the end there is a barrier called the laws of physics, and the only way to get as close to them as possible is to lower operating voltage, and to make the electronics convert as little into heat as possible, there is no magic involved.

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  4. Stacey Higginbotham Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    Mike, you’re right. I, like the Wi-Fi Alliance, got ahead of the IEEE. Thank you for letting me know.

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  5. [...] Congress in Barcelona hasn’t just been about battling mobile operating systems and the latest chips for cell phones, it’s also about content. For the first time ever, the GSM Association threw a party at the [...]

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