Fabless semiconductor startup BitWave this week announced the development of the Softransceiver RFIC, a radio transceiver chip that can be used to communicate with different wireless protocols and frequencies via software programming changes.

Today, some cell phones can operate in different modes, but they typically achieve this by incorporating a separate transceiver for each mode--a method that increases cost, complicates circuitry and increases power usage, BitWave CEO Doug Shute said. With BitWave’s Softransceiver, the multimode goal can be achieve with one transceiver that will not cost any more than a single transceiver does today.

“The idea is to have one phone that will work anywhere in the world that’s enabled by one transceiver chip,” Shute said.

For a wireless user, a Softransceiver cell phone would let customers switch carriers--or turn on new services with their existing carriers--without having to buy a new phone or sign a multiyear extension to their contracts, Shute said. Other opportunities enabled by BitWave’s technology would benefit others in the wireless industry, he said.

“It would be an advantage for cell-phone manufacturers, because right now they have to build as many as 12 different models of a single cell phone just to get it to operate in all the different bands and all the different protocols around the world,” Shute said. “It would be an advantage for the operator because they could buy any cell phone they wanted and it could be programmed to do what they want it to do.”

BitWave’s technology provides “the underpinnings of what cognitive radios will be in the future,” said Russ Cyr, BitWave’s co-founder and chief marketing officer. Although the company initially is focused on the cell-phone market, Cyr said he believes Softransceiver will be applicable in the data market--a universal data card that receives signals from EV-DO, HSDPA, Wi-Fi and WiMAX is possible--and in a public-safety market hungering for handsets that are interoperable and able to work whatever frequencies are available.

“You could now build a single public-safety radio that’s small in size, low in cost, yet works on all the different things that are going on out there--one at a time--simultaneously,” Cyr said.

BitWave plans to begin producing the Softransceiver chip in volume during the first half of 2007, when the company expects the chips to appear in cell phones.