Microsoft Joins Wireless Networking Hardware Game

The company will offer wireless Ethernet ports and notebook and PCI adapters.

Microsoft Corp. this week will enter the wireless networking hardware business with a series of new products aimed at small businesses and consumers.

The products include wireless Ethernet ports as well as notebook and PCI adapters, according to sources close to the Redmond, Wash., company, who said that there wasnt much to differentiate the products from existing networking products except the Microsoft name and Microsofts role in simplifying wireless security configuration.

Industry observers already are assuming that the hardware line is an avenue to sell the companys MSN Broadband services. Several high-speed Internet providers currently offer wireless hardware in their service packages, most often through partnerships with wireless LAN equipment manufacturer Linksys Group Inc.

"Yes, it is the same cheap stuff that you get from Linksys, D-link [Systems Inc.] and the other usual suspects in the marketplace," said one industry analyst familiar with Microsofts new product line. "This is a move that these players have been waiting for and running from. The obvious connection would be using this to boost their MSN offering, but that has yet to happen. For now they are focusing on the retail space, making Linksys their top target."