Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp. are putting their muscle behind new WLAN components, but the heavyweights actions have others in the industry worried they will complicate standards development and limit choices.
Intel, which recently began making wireless LAN radios, plans mini-PCI cards that support 802.11a and 802.11b, which the company intends to bundle with its Banias processor for notebook PCs due in the first half of next year (see related story, Page 31).
Of greatest concern to analysts and vendors is Intels efforts to hard-wire the still-developing 802.11a standard and put WLAN technology directly on the motherboard. Such a move could lock users into an undeveloped standard as notebook OEMs adopt the integrated Intel technology.
Sources say Intel will have an 802.11b-only card for Banias, too, but the company is not publicly promoting the idea. Intel officials said the company plans to put WLAN technology directly on the motherboard but said it has no definite time frame to do so.
"If you look at Ethernet, that eventually got down to the motherboard, and that should happen with [WLAN]," said Taizoon Doctor, general manager for the mobile computing division at Intel, in Hillsboro, Ore.
But officials at competitors remain concerned. Japanese manufacturer Melco Inc. is trying to make a splash in the United States with its Buffalo line of gear, readying new products such as an 802.11b access point/router that supports most security protocols and will upgrade to improved iterations of 802.11a and 802.11g later this fall. The vendor is also readying a PCI card upgrade for next quarter.
"Right now, [the WLAN radio] is a chip on the motherboard, but Intel wants to integrate it totally," said Morikazu Sano, vice president at Melcos new U.S. subsidiary, Buffalo Technology U.S.A. Inc., in Austin, Texas. "Theyre thinking about the client side."
"We are telling clients, dont pay anything extra for an a/b solution now. Let the technology improve," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in San Jose, Calif. "The silicon is in its first pass. By waiting, clients will be able to get [Advanced Encryption Standard] security [through the 802.11i security standard, which is due next fall]. And right now, 802.11a at 54M bps goes about 15 feet. If you deploy a network for 54M bps, you will need a lot of access points. Intel is hyping 802.11a, and I dont want my clients to be duped."
For its part, Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., last week launched what officials said is the beginning of a wireless hardware strategy, with products geared to small-office/ home-office users, including a cable/digital subscriber line router with an integrated 802.11b access point, as well as several adapters.
What distinguishes the products is the companys attempt to make security configuration easier, as well as the fact that the products come with WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) as a default configuration. The WEP key and Service Set Identifier are bundled on a floppy disk so that customers dont have to copy them from a manual.
For now, Microsoft is focusing on the retail market, but company officials said theyre eyeing the enterprise, where the idea of simplifying security configuration is a concern.
(Editors Note: This story has been updated because Melco Inc. was misspelled in the original posting.)