Wi-Fi Battle Turns to Access Point, 802.11n

Industry sources say Intel's new triband Wi-Fi client module won't have a significant effect on the wireless landscape, as the next-generation 802.11n standard moves to the forefront.

Intels announcement of its triband Wi-Fi client module wont have a significant effect on the wireless landscape, industry sources said. Meanwhile, the wireless fray will likely shift to the access point and to the next-generation 802.11n standard.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel Corp. said Thursday that it has finally begun shipping a triband Wi-Fi chip set, more than a year after its competitors announced and began shipping their own products. The Intel PRO/Wireless 2915ABG 802.11a/b/g module will begin shipping in notebooks this September and throughout the remainder of the fourth quarter, Intel executives said.

Intel also arrived late to the 802.11b market but surrounded its products with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign based around its Centrino brand, which Intel has tied to its mobile processors as well as to its Wi-Fi efforts.

Intel also allowed OEMs to purchase a mobile processor, chip set and the Wi-Fi module all for a single price, providing a one-stop shop for the three components.

Likewise, Intels 802.11 a/b/g module will be escorted into the market by several software tools designed to make the Intel wireless experience better than that using rival chip sets.

Intels PROSet/Wireless Software Version 9.0, included with the module, will include a configuration wizard, advanced troubleshooting and features for automated security setup. The 2915ABG module and the PROSet software also support the most recent version of Cisco Compatible Extensions. A partnership formed last year with router manufacturer Linksys also will help users set up Centrino notebooks with Linksys routers.

"People would like Wi-Fi to just work, and thats the mission were in," James A. Johnson, vice president of the Intel Communications Group and general manager of the wireless networking group within Intel, said during a webcast Thursday morning.

The merging of the 802.11a technology–to date, reserved more for businesses–with the consumer-oriented 802.11b/g technology likely wont have as much impact as Intels 802.11b/g module. The PRO/Wireless 2915ABG module, priced at $27 in lots of 10,000, will cost OEMs more than its 802.11b/g counterpart, and will serve a small niche.

/zimages/5/28571.gifAtheros expects increased shipments in 802.11a/g chips this year. Click here for more.

For example, 802.11a/b/g routers make up only about 5 percent of the total Wi-Fi router market, said Morikazu Sano, vice president of product marketing at Buffalo Technology Inc. in Austin, Texas, primarily because an 802.11b router can be purchased for as little as $40 or $50, while triband routers cost $199 or more, he said.

"I can tell you that the 802.11a stuffs appeal has been pretty low," said Ted Ladd, a spokesman for Poway, Calif.-based Gateway Inc. "Maybe this will pick up when Intel establishes the triband radio, but I dont know."

OEMs say Intels advantage is its behind-the-scenes clout and its Centrino bundle, which allows OEMs a convenient one-stop shop for their purchasing. But being so late to market has allowed notebook makers to cozy up to Intels rivals for more than a year, offering the opportunity to upsell customers to the triband chip that Intel lacked.

/zimages/5/28571.gifIntel has pushed back the release of its next-generation Centrino mobile platform until early 2005. Click here to read more.

Another weakness in Intels Centrino message is that it has promoted the general advantages of Wi-Fi and not the specific advantage of selecting an Intel chip, one OEM executive said.

"Wi-Fi is a standard, regardless of whose chip you use," said Paul Morris, director of mobile product marketing at Fujitsu Computer Systems Corp., based in Sunnyvale, Calif. "If you walk into a hot spot and connect, its like walking into a pay phone and wondering whos handling the circuit switching–do you really care? The benefits of Centrino technology that Intel has communicated have been long battery life; theres been very little to do with wireless."

Fujitsu will drop the triband Centrino module into its November notebook refresh, Morris said, while Gateway will offer the chip set before the end of the year, Gateways Ladd said.

Next Page: Examining the future of proprietary "turbo modes."