PCtel Code Puts Wireless Access Point on PCs

PCtel Inc. on Wednesday announced that it shipped Segue, the company's "soft access point" technology that can turn an ordinary PC into a wireless networking device.

SAN JOSE, CALIF.—PCtel Inc. on Wednesday announced that it shipped Segue, the companys "soft access point" technology that can turn an ordinary PC into a wireless networking device.

Shown at the Wi-Fi Planet 2003 show here, PCtels software offers a sneak peek at the wireless capabilities that Intel Corp. will extend into the standard hardware platform with its "Grantsdale" chipset next year. Using a bit of a laptops CPU power, the PCtel technology can transform a notebook or desktop PC into an access point, extending the reach of the network.

The PCtel Segue SAM (soft access module) was received by OEM vendors and their contract manufacturers, and products should enter the market next year, according to Ognjen Redzic, director of engineering for wireless software products.

"The idea is that when you go into a conference room somewhere with six other guys, youre not going to haul an access point with you—I know I dont," Redzic said. "But still, youre going to need to access the network. What [Segue SAM] does is it allows you to create your own wireless network anywhere you want, for extremely low cost."

PCtels Segue could deal another blow to the discrete-access-point market. Two weeks ago at an analyst briefing, Intel officials revealed the companys plans to incorporate access-point capabilities in GrantsdaLe, a k a Intels 875P chipset. When Intels Grantsdale ships, wireless vendors said at the time, the low-end access point market will be under severe price pressure, which PCtels SAM will only exacerbate.

/zimages/3/28571.gifIntel this fall detailed a number of its Wi-Fi transmission plans at the Intel Developers Forum conference. To read the full story, click here.

Chicago-based PCtel will sell its solution directly to notebook manufacturers and devices makers for under $10, "in the low single digits," Redzic said. PCtel also plans to offer an end-user product early next year, Redzic added.

Still, PCtel will target the mobile market, while Intels current plans call for only its desktop products to include the soft AP capability. By doing so, PCtel looks to avoid going head to head against Intel. Logic board maker ASUSTek Computer Inc. of Taipei, has also announced plans to design its own soft AP solution, which it will ship as part of its ASUS@home program.

However, neither PCtels Segue or Intels Grantsdale will likely offer all of the features included in todays access points. "Intels integrated access point solution arriving in Q204 will provide an easy-to-use solution for home networks," said George Alfs, a spokesman for Intel.

However, allowing users to control the network could be problematic observed IT insiders. On one hand, IT managers may be able to eliminate scenarios when theyre called in to create temporary wireless nets to handle something like a business meeting, noted Les Vadasz, the former president of Intel Capital who retired in June.

On the other hand, a laptop makes a better client than an access point, said Ian Milne, a former systems engineer for fixed wireless provider SR Telecom Inc., based in Montreal.

"All of a sudden youre taking a notebook PC, then turning it into an access point. Im not sure thats a good idea," he said.

In return for the low-cost AP capability, however, users will be forced to reserve some CPU cycles to power the Segue client software. When PCtel was founded, the company designed the first controllerless 56Kbps modems, which used the PCs CPU to perform some of the work. The company took the same approach with its Segue SAM client, although Redzic said the Segues software driver required less than 10 percent of the CPU cycles of a 1GHz Pentium III processor to serve 17 notebook clients.

In addition, PCtels Segue currently works with only Intersil Corp.s 802.11g silicon, Redzic said. Over time, PCtel plans to add more silicon providers, he said.

The module can operate in one of three modes: as a pure access point, as a bridge, or in Internet Connection Sharing mode, where the module serves as a gateway, Redzic said. By the end of the year, PCtel plans to offer Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) support, he added.