For WLAN, Its 802.11b

While the IEEE has finally accepted a new high-speed wireless LAN standard--802.11g--the current reigning standard--802.11b--likely will continue to reign.

LAS VEGAS—While the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers has finally accepted a new high-speed wireless LAN standard, the current reigning standard likely will continue to reign.

After a drawn-out process complicated by voting battles and technicalities, the IEEE late last week agreed to terms for the 802.11g standard. 802.11g, which can run at up to 54M bps, runs in the same radio band as the popular 802.11b (WiFi), so the two can interoperate. Wireless LAN vendors such as Intersil Inc. said they expect to have 802.11g products on the market by mid-2002.

The standards process for 802.11g had been hung up for months in a debate over technology from Intersil and Texas Instruments Inc. The IEEE tried to favor both companies in its final vote, but Intersils proposal essentially came out on top.

Meanwhile, at Comdex last week, TI was recasting its version of 802.11g as "enhanced 802.11b." At the show, here, TI demonstrated a 22M-bps access point from Linksys Group Inc., which plans to adopt TIs technology. Melco Inc., a Japanese WLAN company, has announced plans for TIs technology as well, officials said. TI also has 802.11a, or WiFi5, products in its labs, but TI officials said the company has no immediate plans to release them.

Actiontec Electronics Inc. next month will announce products based on Intersils technology, including an 802.11g PC Card, Universal Serial Bus adapter and access point, officials said.

The IEEE already has ratified the high-speed WiFi5 standard. WiFi5, however, runs in the 5GHz band and, therefore, is not backward-compatible with WiFi.

As they move forward with gear to support the latest WLAN protocols, PC Card makers and carriers will continue to consider WiFi as the hot technology of the WLAN industry.

The support for the 802.11b protocol comes as newer, speedier technologies struggle for traction in the enterprise due to compatibility issues and stalled standards efforts.

In the WLAN pavilion at Comdex, Atheros Inc., the leading provider of the newer protocols, said that one of its licensees is set to announce within the next few months a dual-mode access point that supports both 802.11b and 802.11a—which runs five times faster than WiFi but is not backward-compatible.

Similar products will likely appear as manufacturers take advantage of the speed of 802.11a and the popularity of the proven WiFi, officials said.

A number of other vendors with mature 802.11b offerings last week stretched into 802.11a as well. Intel Corp., TDK Systems Inc. and Proxim Inc. each announced 802.11a-based PC Cards and access points here.

Meanwhile, several companies are discussing how to make 802.11b work in conjunction with wireless networks outside the 802.11 family, namely, wide-area cellular networks.

Both carriers and client-side hardware makers at Comdex were discussing products and services that would marry WiFi to GPRS (General Packet Radio Service).

"I think the next big thing would be a GPRS/802.11 solution," said Ed Colligan, chief operating officer of handheld computer and smart-phone manufacturer Handspring Inc., in Mountain View, Calif.

Compaq Computer Corp. plans to create a multiport snap-on module for its notebooks that will support both WiFi and a cell phone network.

Ericsson Inc. officials said the company has been talking to carriers about this possibility for months. Sources at Comdex said several carriers would like to pick up where MobileStar Networks Inc. left off when it went out of business last month.

But carriers report that dual services will not be so simple to deploy. "We are probably going to have to put elements in the network that will address that," said Kris Rinne, vice president of technology and product realization at Cingular Wireless, in Atlanta.