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DoCoMo Adds WiFi Routing to 3G Device

NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) is launching a dualmode handset on its 3G network that can double up as a WiFi access point.

The NEC Corp. (Tokyo: 6701) N-06A smartphone, set to launch on DoCoMo's FOMA (Freedom of Multimedia Access) 3G network later this year, will be the first commercial smartphone able to operate as a WiFi access point (AP), a function enabled by technology from chipset vendor Atheros Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: ATHR).

The "DoCoMo PRIME series N-06A" handset [ed. note: Try saying that fast after a couple of sakes!], which supports High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) 3G technology as well as WiFi, is the first handset to implement the "AP Mode" in Atheros's AR6002 WiFi radio chip.

Other handsets that use WiFi operate in "ad hoc" mode, which means they can't be used as means of providing an Internet connection for a laptop or other devices, although there have been third-party "hacks" developed for the iPhone that allow it to work in "AP mode".

Atheros tells Unstrung that the N-06A handset can connect with up to eight other devices in AP mode. Treating the phone as infrastructure also has battery benefits over ad hoc connections. Atheros's strategic director of marketing for its mobile unit, Joseph Bousaba, claims the chip offers more than 50 percent better battery-life than comparable products.

Part of this is a function of the less-intensive AP mode itself. Bousaba says that Atheros has also tweaked performance by "controlling which parts of the circuit are on and off" at any point in time.

The new handset is expected to be available to the public in the third quarter of this year. There's no word on whether it might get a release in the U.S. or elsewhere.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung
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