Fledgling WLAN Spec Picks Up Early Support

By Carmen Nobel  |  Posted 2002-07-29

Fledgling WLAN Spec Picks Up Early Support

With an attractive combination of fast data rates and backward compatibility, a fledgling WLAN standard is getting an early jolt of support from wireless vendors looking for components several months ahead of the specifications ratification.

The proposed standard, 802.11g, which supports data throughput rates of up to 54M bps, is expected to be well-suited for home and small-office use initially and then wireless LAN enterprises.

To meet the expected demand, a host of networking companies, including Intersil Corp., Texas Instruments Inc., 3Com Corp. and Atheros Communications Inc., are revving up 802.11g plans.

While an existing specification, 802.11a, already supports 54M-bps rates, 802.11g uses the 2.4GHz frequency band, the same band as the popular but slower 802.11b.

As for compatibility, 802.11b users would be able to step up to 802.11g with little hassle, while equipment to support all three standards simultaneously would cost about the same as current dual-band gear, sources said.

Intersil plans in the first half of next year to ship a two-chip radio, called Duet, which will support 802.11a, 80211b and 80211g. The plan is to embed the radio in notebooks as well as in PC Cards, said officials in Palm Bay, Fla.

A Duet card could work with 802.11g networks in the home office, 802.11a networks in the enterprise and 802.11b networks in the myriad public "hot spots" sprouting up all over the country, officials said.

TI has similar plans and expects to offer products for all three WLAN flavors as soon as the standard is ratified, officials said.

"The [802.11g] standard has reduced the viability of a pure 802.11a marketplace," said Bill Carney, director of wireless business development at TI, in Santa Rosa, Calif. "802.11g is creating a convergence between a and b, and multiband is the expectation."

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: Clear Need for 802.11g">

WLAN vendors said they see a clear need for 802.11g.

"We believe that the upcoming products that [include 802.11g] are going to be important," said Bruce Claflin, CEO of 3Com, in Santa Clara, Calif., which sells access points and WLAN PC Cards. "But for the home office and [small- and midsize-business] market, were really going to drive [802.11g]."

In addition to its compatibility with 802.11b, 802.11g has a better range than 802.11a, making it a better option for the home office user who wants to buy only one access point. It also travels better through walls than 802.11as 5GHz band—not to mention commodities brokers.

"5GHz doesnt go through people as well ... and we have a lot of people crammed into a room," said Jeff Komarek, IT manager at the Chicago Board of Trade, who has been testing WLAN products.

Perhaps 802.11gs biggest drawback is its unofficial status. The IEEE had expected to ratify the specification by January 2003, but that has slipped to March at the earliest.

Insiders say component makers, such as TI, are delaying the process in an effort to push proprietary products, a claim TI officials deny. Some companies are developing interim solutions.

Atheros, the first company to sell 802.11a chip sets, reported that by September, several licensees will be selling multimode access points and PC Cards that include its "pre-standard 802.11g" technology.

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  • WLAN Wares Make the (54M-bps) Connection

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