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Broadcom also simplifies WLAN security setup

May 11, 20043 mins

* Broadcom announces new version of its 802.11g chipset

For a little while there, Buffalo Technology was a superhero. It was the only wireless LAN maker to acknowledge that selling boxes with disabled security wasn’t just ethically suspect but stupid business, and the only one to come up with a system that configures Wired Equivalent Privacy and Wi-Fi Protected Access with the push of a button (see

Now it turns out, Broadcom’s been wearing the big S under its shirt, too.

Last week, the leading WLAN chip maker announced a new version of its 802.11g chipset, branded 54g, that greatly simplifies the Service Set Identifier (SSID) and WPA setup, and extends the range of a 54g LAN up to 50%, according to Jeff Abramowitz, Broadcom’s senior director of marketing.

The week before, Broadcom demonstrated a beta version of the technology – SecureEZSetup – for me in New York. Or, more accurately, I configured WPA on Broadcom’s WLAN. What did it take? I installed the SecureEZSetup software on the client, and the software found the router. A wizard popped up asking me to choose from three questions – mother’s maiden name, street you grew up on, pet’s name. Then it asked for my birthdate. Oh – and I had to click OK, too.

In answering those two questions I’d configured the SSID and WPA, the strongest wireless security available. Configuring WPA this way is more secure than typing in keys you make up yourself because SecureEZSetup generates the keys randomly so they’re harder to crack, says David Cohen, Broadcom’s senior product marketing manager and chairman of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s security committee.

Considering Wal-Mart now sells Linksys WLAN gear, and 80% of wireless users don’t set up security, according to market research firm Forward Concepts, it really has to be this easy.

Products from Linksys and others stamped with the SecureEZSetup logo are expected in the coming months.

But wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t need a special logo – if automatic security configuration was built into the 802.11 specification, standardized by the Wi-Fi Alliance? Coincidentally, the group’s managing director, Frank Hanzlik, also was touring the Northeast; Cohen said he and Abramowitz are trying to set up a meeting.

Given that Broadcom claims more than 70% of the PC-based WLAN chip market, where does SecureEZSetup leave Buffalo?

Morikazu Sano, Buffalo’s vice president, is unfazed. Broadcom is concentrating on the PC and WLAN vendors, and Buffalo on the consumer electronics manufacturers.

“We’re foreseeing a time when the digital home network is wireless, and vendors need to provide a stress-free environment,” Sano says.

“We’re targeting a market where you don’t need a PC, that’s why we have a physical button. With Broadcom’s, you have to type. We don’t even require that,” Sano adds.

Two questions, or a button? That’s a tough one. If you’re helping your mom set up a WLAN from scratch, go with Buffalo AOSS. Mixed-vendor networks should go with Broadcom gear. If Buffalo uses the new 54g chips, you’ll get both.

Kistner is managing editor of the Net.Worker section of Network World. She can be reached at