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Atheros takes aim at Intel Centrino

Sep 17, 20032 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork Security

* Chips to improve battery life, range

With its eXtended Range (XR) launch, wireless LAN chipmaker Atheros is firing a direct salvo at the Intel Centrino architecture.

As mentioned last time, Atheros XR is available as a dual-band, multimode two-chip architecture for supporting universal 802.11a/b/g networks or as a single-band, dual-mode two-chip architecture for running 802.11b/g networks. Centrino is currently limited to 802.11b networks.

While Intel has promised 802.11a support later this year, it has made no recent mention of dual-band, dual-mode support. This is an important capability for enabling roaming users to connect to whatever type of Wi-Fi network is available or the one with the most capacity.

Centrino and Atheros XR are very similar in spirit, aiming to extend client device battery life and improve the efficiency of Wi-Fi networks and the quality of the mobile user’s experience.  Centrino, however, integrates its Wi-Fi capability and system optimization technology directly into a laptop’s main system chipset, which can deliver additional overall system-wide benefits to roaming users by boosting the efficiency of the entire client device, not just the operations associated with the network connection.

For its part, Atheros is likely to capture the attention of corporate IT departments with its ability to “wake up” remote XR-enabled wireless client devices for centralized management and to detect when a client device has been removed from a corporate facility without authorization. As mentioned last time, Atheros XR reportedly also approximately double the range of indoor Wi-Fi networks. The company also claims to consume 25% less transmit power, 30% less receive power and 95% less power when idling than Centrino. 

Wi-Fi system vendors are expected to announce support for Atheros’ XR later this year. Among those likely to support the technology are PC OEMs embedding mini-PCI Wi-Fi connections in their notebooks.

In addition virtually all the enterprise-class WLAN manufacturers (start-ups and traditional vendors alike, including Airespace, Aruba Wireless Networks, Chantry, Extreme, Nortel, Symbol and Trapeze Networks) use Atheros chips. So it is highly unlikely that this technology will not find its way into their access points and client cards.

Cisco is the notable exception; it currently builds its enterprise-class Aironet Wi-Fi products using its own semiconductors, based on technology Cisco gained when it acquired Radiata in 2000. The consumer-class Linksys products Cisco acquired this year, however, use Atheros and Broadcom silicon.