Wi-Fi Group Touts Battery Savers

The Wi-Fi Alliance on Tuesday is set to attack one of the main problems with wireless LAN phones by certifying features to extend battery life.

The industry group that certifies interoperability of Wi-Fi products is adding a label it calls Wireless Multimedia (WMM) Power Save, which identifies products that have reduced the power needed to use multimedia applications over wireless LANs, said Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the alliance.

Easing Wi-Fi Power Drains

Using a wireless LAN for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), streaming video and other multimedia applications increases the power consumption of Wi-Fi, which already tends to drain battery power because of ongoing searches for nearby access points, said IDC analyst Abner Germanow. The size and weight requirements of Wi-Fi phones as well as dual-mode cellular and WLAN handsets, plus the need to carry them around all day, make power consumption even more critical.

"The gating factor on a lot of the different types of functionality has come down to power," Germanow said.

Equipment certified for WMM Power Save should extend battery life under multimedia use by between 15 percent and 40 percent, Hanzlik said. On Tuesday, the Wi-Fi Alliance will introduce the certification and also announce the first handful of products that have received the seal, he said. A variety of chipsets, product reference designs and devices from vendors including Atheros Communications, Broadcom, and Cisco have been certified in the first round, according to the group. There won't be a WMM Power Save logo on the boxes of certified products, Hanzlik said. Instead, information about each product's certifications will be available on the Wi-Fi Alliance's Web page.

Looking to 802.11e

WMM Power Save includes improved signaling capabilities and mechanisms for fine-tuning power consumption, Hanzlik said. It uses some elements of the IEEE 802.11e specification, a standard for improving multimedia on Wi-Fi that was approved in September, Hanzlik said.

Most of the rest of 802.11e will be included in the WMM Scheduled Access certification, which will be introduced in mid-2006, Hanzlik said. The original WMM certification, introduced last year, covers technology that can prioritize certain types of packets over others in a queue. WMM Scheduled Access will expand on that by essentially providing multiple queues so multimedia packets can travel more smoothly through the network, he said.

The need for longer battery life in Wi-Fi devices spans both consumer and enterprise business users, Hanzlik said, especially for handsets.

"There's a very strong level of interest ... in trying to optimize the user experience there," Hanzlik said.

There are two basic types of devices for voice over Wi-Fi, according to IDC's Germanow: Wi-Fi-only phones for roaming around an office, which are essentially cordless phones, and dual-mode cellular/Wi-Fi phones that workers or consumers can use at home, at work or on the road. Sales of mobile phones equipped with Wi-Fi (not necessarily all will use voice over Wi-Fi) will top 100 million per year by 2009, according to a 2004 IDC report.

MP3tunes, a company created by MP3.com founder Michael Robertson, has launched an unlimited online digital music storage service, called Oboe.

The service costs $39.95 yearly and lets customers back up and consolidate their music files and also stream their music to various computers.

Users can install Oboe Syncsoftware on multiple systems running Macintosh OS X, Microsoft Windows, or the Linux operating system. The software scans the computers and uploads all music files to the online storage locker. The online storage locker combines music from the multiple computers and then syncs the contents of the locker to all the user's computers. The locker can store MP3, Windows Media, and iTunes files.

For now the new service, announced last week, works only on computers but by the end of the year MP3tunes plans to publish Oboe application programming interfaces (APIs) so that other devices, like mobile phones, game consoles, or personal digital assistants, can be used to sync with or stream music from the online storage locker.

A plug-in lets iTunes customers access Oboe from their iTunes software to make it easier for them to add their iTunes music to the locker.

Legal Realities Interfere

File format and digital rights management (DRM) incompatibilities put some limits on the offering and Robertson's vision.

"I want a world where you can play your music on products from any vendor and even across vendors," Robertson wrote in his blog. However, that world doesn't exist today.

Music that users purchase from the iTunes store, for example, is protected by the iTunes DRM and can only be played on a device with iTunes software. When Oboe users view their list of music from their online storage locker, songs that have the iTunes DRM will be listed in italics and can't be played from Oboe's Web-based interface on a computer that does not have iTunes. "We don't adjust the DRM," Robertson said. "If it has restrictions going in it will going out."

So far, he said customers are excited about the simple, low-cost pricing plan.

"One big wave of first users are simply users who want to backup their iTunes music," he said, noting that without such backup, if a user's machine crashes the music purchased from the iTunes store is gone forever. "It's worth 40 bucks as a bit of insurance," he said.

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