April 12, 2002 4:15 PM PDT

Wi-Fi "lite" from Microsoft

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Microsoft is expected to present its take next week on "soft Wi-Fi," a new idea in wireless networking for homes and offices.

The software giant will show off some details of how to lighten the number of tasks routinely given to a Wi-Fi radio, the most expensive of several pieces of Wi-Fi equipment.

The tasks are reassigned to either the modem that lets laptops access a Wi-Fi network, or to the laptop itself. Soft Wi-Fi is expected to lower the radio's price tag.

Microsoft's work will be detailed Wednesday during a session at its Windows Hardware Engineering Conference titled "Wireless Communications: Security and Soft Wi-Fi."

A Microsoft representative was unaware of any additional details about what was to be presented.

Intel has been experimenting with soft Wi-Fi for about a year, but has no plans for any products.

Short for "wireless fidelity," Wi-Fi is predicated on the technical standard 802.11, which requires the installation of a small radio tower connected to the Internet via a high-speed phone line or DSL (digital subscriber line) connection. The radio, about the size of a can of beer, extends the wire line and connects with any mobile devices equipped with mini-radios in PC cards.

Setting up a network is relatively inexpensive, costing $500 to $1,000 for a system that allows wireless access in a 300-foot radius. The radio generally costs between $150 and $250. These networks are already in about 1.4 million U.S. homes and are catching on in restaurants, hotels, airports, workplaces and conference centers. By 2005, analysts believe, Wi-Fi will be used in about 27 million homes and 28 million offices.


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