California-based Atheros Communications and CDMA giant Qualcomm this week are demonstrating interoperability between their chipsets as they pursue an integrated cellular/Wi-Fi solution that can be used on most 3G networks, including WCDMA and CDMA EV/DO.

“Qualcomm is integrating our software into their cellular stack, which means they are really delivering a very efficient architecture—our solution is embedded in their reference design,” said Joseph Bousaba, Atheros Communications’ director of marketing for mobile and embedded products. “So the [handset manufacturer] really doesn’t need to do much.”

For enterprises, the ability to let employees use voice over IP (VoIP) via the enterprise Wi-Fi network offers potential cost savings and a improved in-building coverage for a mobile phone user. Such handsets have been available in the GSM market for some time, but their availability to date in the CDMA market has been limited to expensive smart phones, Bousaba said.

“The key point is that people have to buy smart phones that cost $400-$500 to get that [Wi-Fi] functionality,” he said. “What Qualcomm is doing is bringing Wi-Fi functionality to the feature phone, and feature phones are obviously lower cost.”

Indeed, feature phones typically are priced at 50% of the cost of a smart phone, which should generate favorable economies of scale. Even with the Wi-Fi chip, the collaborative solution is expected to fit into the form factor of current handset models, Bousaba said.

Previously, Qualcomm announced a similar partnership with Philips Semiconductor, but Bousaba said Atheros is hopeful that its solution will become more popular.

“Atheros is the only supplier that can offer both 802.11g and 802.11a/g in the mobile space,” Bousaba said. “This is the one advantage we have.”

The Qualcomm-Atheros solution is scheduled to be commercially available in June. Initial versions of the chipset will not enable automatic handoffs between cellular and Wi-Fi networks, but allowing such seamless transitions is a goal of the Qualcomm-Atheros partnership, Bousaba said.