MWC: Mobile Wi-Fi that Doesn’t Suck…Battery 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.