May 16, 2003 11:51 AM PDT

Intel steps up 802.11g plans

Intel is picking up the pace on introducing 802.11g technology into its products, as the emerging wireless networking specification gathers customer and standards support.

The chipmaker is moving up the timeframe for using 802.11g technology in its Centrino bundle of chips, Sean Maloney, Intel executive vice president, said Thursday at the company's spring analyst meeting in New York.

The emerging 802.11g specification is for Wi-Fi networks that transmit data at 54 megabits per second (mbps), use the 2.4GHz band and are compatible with equipment based on earlier 802.11b wireless technology. Wi-Fi lets people wirelessly access and share resources on a network. The Centrino bundle comprises a new low-power Pentium-M processor, a chipset and Wi-Fi components tested by Intel.

Maloney said Intel will be in production with a Centrino package that includes an 802.11b/802.11g component by the end of the year. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company had not planned to support 802.11g until the first half of next year, when it intends to include a combination 802.11a/802.11b/802.11g part in the wireless bundle. There are plans for an 802.11a/802.11b part in Centrino, but it will now not arrive until the third quarter--slightly later than the first-half estimate that Intel had given.

Behind Intel's accelerated schedule for 802.11g is the progress that the specification has made in the standards and interoperability approval process, along with its growing popularity in the market, according to Maloney. A wireless networking specification generally goes through such approval processes with two separate industry groups before it is deemed a standard and is approved to work with other products.

Also in the works are plans for Intel to produce silicon for the WiMax 802.16a standard, Maloney added in an interview with CNET News.com Friday, though the timing for the adoption has not yet been determined. WiMax, short for Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access, promotes 802.16a for wide-area broadband access. Networks based on 802.16a have a range of up to about 30 miles with data transfer speeds of up to 70mbps.

In late April, component and equipment makers including Intel, Nokia and Fujitsu Microelectronics America announced that they are working to help promote WiMax and to handle the certification of equipment's compatibility and interoperability in wirelessly accessing high-speed broadband connections.

The Wi-Fi Alliance announced in late February that it will complete interoperability tests of 802.11g-based products in July. Completion of those tests depends on whether the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) approves the specification as a standard, which it expects to do in June. A Wi-Fi Alliance representative said products using the 802.11g standard with interoperability certification could be on store shelves as early as August.


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However, products using the 802.11g specification have been shipping since late last year, despite the incomplete standard, and have been well received by consumers, according to analysts. Early products based on 802.11g experienced some interoperability problems with 802.11b-based products, causing manufacturers such as Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard to shy away from the unfinished specification. Others, such as Wi-Fi network gearmaker Linksys, took the risk to gain market share. Linksys, after some initial problems with its 802.11g products, found that the risk paid off as the products helped maintain its lead in the market.

In addition, 802.11g technology has bolstered the growing global market for wireless networking gear, according to a study done by the Dell'Oro Group. Products based on the specification accounted for 16 percent of the sector's revenue and 17 percent of shipments in the first quarter, researchers said. Overall, worldwide revenue for wireless networking equipment was $411 million in the first quarter, up 1 percent from the previous three-month period. Unit shipments for the quarter rose 6 percent to 4.8 million, according to the report.

"The industry has been focused on all these letters, but what we are learning is that software is the issue," said Maloney, referring to the software-based features and services delivered by wireless networking products; he called for an interview from a notebook using Wi-Fi technology. "What people care about is what is more and more delivered through software, and we've now got more engineers working on software than on hardware."

Maloney noted that security, ease of use and reach are among the chief concerns from customers and that Intel is looking to software solutions to ease their anxieties. The company plans to support the latest security specification, Wi-Fi protected access (WPA), starting next month.

 

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