Linksys Wi-Fi Rivals Fast Ethernet

Cisco's Linksys division is offering MIMO-based Wi-Fi hardware that offers throughput and data transfer rates that rival Fast Ethernet.

Cisco Systems Inc.s Linksys division is offering new Wi-Fi hardware that offers throughput and data transfer rates that rival Fast Ethernet, albeit with proprietary technology.

The WRT54GX4 Wireless-G Broadband Router and WPC54GX4 Wireless-G PC Card are based on the third generation of MIMO (multiple-input, multiple-output) chip sets from Airgo Networks Inc. The chip sets can support data rates of up to 240M bps, with "real-world" TCP/IP throughput rates huddling around 120M bps, according to Airgo officials in Palo Alto, Calif.

"The cool thing about this generation is that its not just for notebooks anymore," said Greg Raleigh, CEO of Airgo. "You can connect your desktops and do away with the Ethernet."

MIMO technology runs multiple data streams in a single channel to boost throughput to rates of up to 108M bps, which is double that of the maximum speeds of 802.11a and 802.11g. Some variant of MIMO will be at the heart of the upcoming IEEE 802.11n standard. Many enterprise-level hardware makers plan to wait for the standard before releasing a MIMO product, but ratification of that standard isnt expected until early 2007 due to an ongoing stalemate between two competing contingents within the standard task group.

In October, a splinter group called the Enhanced Wireless Consortium announced itself and its plans to expedite the ratification of 802.11n with its own draft specification. The group includes several powerhouse players in the Wi-Fi space, including Intel Corp., Cisco, Atheros Communications Inc., Broadcom Corp. and Linksys—but not Airgo. Raleigh criticized the initial secrecy of the EWC, claiming that the group actually slowed down the ratification process. "We want to see fewer games and more work," he said.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read about what notebook vendors are doing with MIMO wireless technology.

But EWC members insist something had to be done before everyone went proprietary.

"There was a set of companies that were like-minded in the decision to have a standard move forward," said Bill McFarland, chief technology officer of Wi-Fi chip-set maker Atheros. "There was about to be a train wreck. All these companies were going to launch products to meet demand, but the products wouldnt be interoperable."

As a company that has gone ahead with proprietary technology, Airgo has fared well with hardware manufacturers that cater to small-office customers. Potential customers say that support from Linksys helps ease the fear of nonstandard technology.

"If it was a little no-name company pushing a product out there that didnt conform to standards, I wouldnt buy it at all, but since its Linksys/Cisco I suspect that MIMO will, if not become the de facto standard, at least become something the market has to accommodate if only because of sheer numbers of units using it," said Steve Durst, co-founder of Skaion Corp., a computer security consultancy in Bedford, Mass.

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