SD card to add Wi-Fi capability to smart phones

  • Joris Evers (IDG News Service)
  • 05 December, 2003 12:19

Chip design company, SyChip, is testing software for its secure digital I/O (SDIO) wireless LAN (WLAN) card so it can be used to add Wi-Fi capability to smart phones.

With the card and the software, smart phones can use a WLAN to transmit data and double as a cordless Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone when linked to a corporate IP telephony service, SyChip's director of marketing, Navi Miglani, said.

Wi-Fi capability could be a welcome addition for smart phone users as it offers higher transmission speeds than current phone networks.

VoIP users will also only need one handset that they can use as both a mobile phone while on the road and as their work phone in the office.

SyChip's SDIO 802.11b WLAN card is currently sold as a personal digital assistant (PDA) accessory by SanDisk, ViewSonic and Socket Communications. It retails for about $US130. However, for smart phone use SyChip had to develop new driver software.

"Smart phones have a different user interface, with buttons instead of a touch screen," Miglani said. "We had to develop software for that."

During a session at the Wi-Fi Planet Conference & Expo, Miglani showed a Windows Mobile-based Samsung Electronics i600 device with the SDIO card and a beta version of the driver software.

A final version was due out in the first quarter of 2004, along with software for Palm OS-based smart phones, he said.

SyChip is also working on software to make its SDIO cards work with smart phones based on Symbian's namesake operating system, though Miglani could not say when his company would deliver drivers for that operating system.

Smart phone users will have to manually install the drivers on their devices to use WLAN.

This would most likely be done through synchronisation with a PC, Miglani said.

SyChip is working with Microsoft with the hope of having its drivers included in future versions of the Windows Mobile software for smart phones.

Product manager in Microsoft's Mobile Devices Division, Jason Gordon, could not make any promises.

"While we have nothing to announce today, one of Microsoft's top priorities is to continue to empower the Windows Mobile software and hardware developer community with both the technical tools and business support to easily develop and market solutions that allow people to connect to people and information in new ways," he said.

Wi-Fi capability was valuable, but users would want to have it built into products and not in the form of an expansion card, a research director at Jupiter Research, Michael Gartenberg, said.

"Many organisations will be looking for devices that have Wi-Fi functionality built in, rather than looking at the aftermarket for expansion cards," he said. "For one thing, the cards tend to protrude on some of the devices, that will certainly hamper usability. Battery life is a second issue. If I am now powering an SDIO Wi-Fi card, that can severely restrict battery life."

On the Samsung device, SyChip's Miglani showed the SDIO card did jut out from the side of the phone.

Phones that have Wi-Fi built in are on the horizon. In Japan, for example, NTT DoCoMo and NEC have developed a handset that supports both third-generation (3G) cellular telephony and WLAN.

The device is due out around the beginning of the new Japanese fiscal year, which starts in April.