Cisco, Intel team to ease wireless home networks

Intel and Cisco Monday announced a partnership aimed at easing the setup process and improving performance between Intel Centrino mobile PCs and Linksys wireless routers and access points. 

The program - which is part marketing initiative, part joint-engineering effort - involves Intel testing its Centrino mobile technology with Linksys wireless access points and routers for “compatibility.” Compatible products are then “verified” and labeled as such on the box. The first verified products use 802.11b technology; 802.11g verified products are forthcoming.

Verified products, which will begin appearing at Fry’s Electronics retail stores this week, have undergone some “minor design tweaks” to improve interoperability, ease of network detection and performance, says Charlie Giancarlo, Cisco’s vice president and general manager of product development.

Giancarlo says one of the calls Linksys gets most often are from users who are afraid to open the box. “We hope to reduce that fear somewhat. And even if they do call us, perhaps we can reduce the amount of time it takes them to get up and running,” he says.

Specifically, Giancarlo says Intel has improved the time it takes a Centrino notebook to detect and synch up with a Linksys access point, as well as the speed of the connection and distance. “We didn’t find a case where technologies didn’t work with each other, but we were able to improve their overall performance,” he says.

The Wi-Fi Alliance already tests products for interoperability and adherence to the 802.11 specification. Intel and Cisco say the work they’re doing is a superset. But it’s not yet clear whether the design enhancements will affect the way other vendors’ wireless hardware works with Centrino notebooks, or how non-Centrino notebooks will work with Linksys gear.

“Wi-Fi Alliance tests to the spec. We go beyond it,” says Anand Chandrasekher, vice president of Intel mobile platforms group. Chandrasekher says the Intel lab tests the products’ compatibility and usability within a variety of middleware application environments, application-level environments, and power-managed environments. “There is an element of usability testing that happens that we’re going to build on as we go forward,” he adds.

A second phase of the plan, expected to roll out next year, will involve developing software for easing the initial wireless network setup procedure, defining and configuring security and IP addressing, and easing plug-and-play with a variety of devices, Giancarlo says. The companies say they are also looking at adding features suited to home and small business users, such as audio streaming and VPN for remote access to small business and home networks.

“Even small businesses of course have executives who go home at night and want to connect to e-mail,” Giancarlo says.

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