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Faster wireless LAN technology on tap

By and Phil Hochmuth, Network World
November 11, 2002 12:06 AM ET

Network World - LAS VEGAS - The potential heir-apparent technology for high-speed wireless LANs will take center stage at Comdex Fall 2002 next week.

Chip makers Intersil and Broadcom, along with a number of wireless LAN vendors using their silicon, will demonstrate wireless products based on the as-yet-unratified IEEE 802.11g specifications, which at 54M bit/sec could be successor to the popular 802.11b , or Wi-Fi, standard, which tops out at 11M bit/sec.

Proponents of 802.11g say it offers corporations an easy way to migrate their 802.11b radio infrastructures, including interface cards and access points, to a higher speed. That's because wireless LANs based on 802.11g will use the same 2.4-GHz band that 802.11b uses. The higher data rate, translating into actual throughput of about 17M to 19M bit/sec, would give users more bandwidth for an array of multimedia and other data-intensive applications.

The change also will make it easier for customers with 802.11b deployments to increase throughput without having to replace wireless LAN infrastructures. That's what has to be done today when shifting from 802.11b to 802.11a, which runs in the 5-GHz band.

Vendors say the result is a wireless LAN that has the longer range of 802.11b and the higher throughput of 802.11a. In addition, any existing 802.11b adapter card will be able to work with an 802.11g access point. That's not possible with 802.11a adapters. So network executives can replace an 802.11b access point with an 802.11g access point - or simply swap the radio cards - and existing wireless users still can connect to the network at the 802.11b data rate of 11M bit/sec. When or if 802.11g takes hold, new adapter cards can be phased in gradually, enabling these devices to join a 54M bit/sec wireless network.

The first 802.11g products might be available as early as year-end or early 2003. They'll carry a higher price tag than 802.11b products, perhaps about 20%, according to one vendor who asked not to be identified. Current prices for 802.11b adapters range from $45 to $140; for 802.11b access points, from about $385 to $1,050, depending on features. The 802.11g products are likely to complicate even further wireless LAN return-on-investment calculations for network executives.

At Comdex, Intersil will demonstrate its Prism Duette chipset, which lets the radio component in the chip handle 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g transmissions.

The company already has what it calls "alpha customers," most of them big Taiwanese component builders. Using Duette samples, those vendors are designing 802.11g cards that wireless LAN vendors will incorporate into access points or adapters, says Larry Ciaccia, vice president for Prism wireless products. The component builders are using samples of the Intersil chips for initial design work. Intersil plans to ship higher volumes of chips by year-end and be in full production by March.

Cisco has worked closely with Intersil , using a number of Intersil technologies, but is creating its own media access control layer and integrating Cisco management and security features. Cisco sees 802.11g as a way to give its current Aironet 802.11b wireless LAN customers the ability to shift gradually to higher throughput, without having to replace every adapter card and rewire the infrastructure.

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