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WLANs keep getting more efficient

Sep 15, 20032 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork SecurityWi-Fi

* Atheros extends Wi-Fi, Broadcom targets PDAs

Advances in 802.11 wireless LAN (“Wi-Fi”) components are continuing to improve the basic operation of access points and network interface cards.

This week, for example, Atheros announced it has begun shipping two-chip architectures for 802.11a/b/g and 802.11b/g networks that extend coverage range, reduce power consumption and enable some remote management capabilities. And last week, Broadcom said it has developed a single-chip, 802.11b-only architecture aimed at PDAs that the company expects to be embedded in devices in the fourth quarter.

Getting Wi-Fi functionality down to one- and two-chip form factors lowers power usage and thus extends the battery life of client devices. Broadcom’s AirForce OneChip, for example, reportedly consumes an average of 85% less power than other 802.11b Wi-Fi systems on the market, which is key for successful implementation in handhelds. Atheros says its eXtended Range (XR) architecture, which supports the gamut of today’s 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz 802.11a/b/g flavors, reduces power consumption by 60%.

When Atheros’ technology gets embedded in APs and NICs, the approximate 100-meter range of an in-building network will jump to roughly 200 to 250 meters, according to Atheros. The company adds that the range nearly quadruples in outdoor, line-of-sight installations to 790 meters.

The ability of APs and NICs to communicate longer distances without dropping a connection will likely reduce the number of APs you must buy, install and manage in order to cover a certain geographic area. Granted, capacity might plummet to pre-802.11b standard speeds when users roam this far from an AP. But at least user connections won’t drop off.

Craig Barratt, Atheros president and CEO, explains that, for example, an 802.11a network (54M bit/sec theoretical maximum throughput) usually disconnects user sessions once the network speed has dropped to 6M bit/sec. But in XR-fortified networks, he says, coverage range can continue to stretch while speeds drop as low as 500K bit/sec. In other words, you have more flexibility to trade off capacity for distance to fill in dead spots and keep user connections from breaking.