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Wireless boom gets gadget makers buzzing

Deletes reference to NTT DoCoMo in 10th paragraph, after company clarified that NTT was not a direct client

india Updated: Jun 10, 2006 19:18 IST

By Sheena Lee

Wireless communications are becoming a fertile development ground in the PC world, as new devices tap a growing number of networks to take mobile chatter and on-the-move entertainment to new levels.

As mobile technology becomes more pervasive, new networks drawing on more established technologies like wi-fi, and newer ones like Bluetooth and Wi-max, have begun filling the airwaves, offering alternatives to traditional cellular service.

Product developers have been rushing to fill the vacuum, cranking out a steady stream of prototypes for phones, advanced personal digital assistants (PDAs) and other devices to ride the boom in wireless airspace.

One fast-growing product group giving traditional cellphones a run for their money is the wi-fi phone, which was on display in a bumper crop of sizes and flavours at this year's Computex in Taiwan, the second-largest computer fair in the world.

Unlike traditional cellular service, wi-fi based handsets can provide phone service over the Internet for free to anywhere in the world using voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) technology within range of so-called "hot-spots".

At its Computex booth, Japanese chip maker Renesas Technology Corp., a joint venture between Hitachi Ltd. and Mitsubishi Electric Corp., was showing off chipsets especially designed for wi-fi phones.

One company with actual phones was FiWin Inc., a subsidiary of Taiwan's First International Computer Global Inc.

Taking the technology one step further, the firm has released new models integrated with eBay's Inc.'s popular Skype service that allows for easy VoIP calling.

"Free Internet call services have been booming in popularity and such phones could really change the future of the mobile phone market," Sam Kang, a director of project development at FiWin, told Reuters at the company's booth at Computex.

Kang said FiWin already counts Hitachi as a major client. He added great potential is seen in China, where Skype, working with local partner Tom Online, is growing fast in popularity.

Other firms like Accton Technology Corp. have also released Skype-fitted wi-fi phones, and FiWin itself plans to soon launch models incorporating other online voice services from companies like Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

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Traditional cellphone makers and operators have also gotten in on the wireless boom, drawing on the strong potential of third-generation (3G) mobile systems being rolled out in many markets worldwide.

As traditional computers and cellphones edge closer, companies such as Taiwan's High Tech Computer Corp.'s (HTC) and its newly acquired Dopod unit are capitalising on convergence between PDAs and 3G phones, adding multimedia functions to create all-in-one handheld devices.

Drawing on the new 3G turbo-charged airwaves, cellphone makers and carriers are playing with well-publicised functions like streaming audio and video, as well as lesser known ones like global positioning system (GPS) locators and more mundane functions like Microsoft's MSN Chat service.

"At Computex, we see firms promoting advanced PDA phones onto the market, and in the third-quarter of this year, growth of these products will be more apparent, phasing out older handheld devices," said James Chen, an analyst for the Market Intelligence Center (MIC), a top industry think tank in Taiwan.