Comdex: Another flavour of wireless LAN emerges

Visitors to the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas this week will get an early glimpse of IEEE 802.11g wireless LAN products, which...

Visitors to the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas this week will get an early glimpse of IEEE 802.11g wireless LAN products, which are designed to deliver as much as 54Mbps of bandwidth using the same radio spectrum used by current 11Mbps equipment.

Price and a longer range are expected to give the products an edge over 802.11a equipment, which is also designed for 54Mbps, but uses a different part of the radio spectrum. Technology using the 802.11a standard hit the market late last year but cost significantly more than the popular 11Mbps 802.11b networks.

Vendors do not want to be last to get access points and network adapters to market, and some are willing to take a chance and come out with products before the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) finally certifies the standard.

Vendors believe the standard is nearly complete, and could happen as early as March.

At Comdex, Buffalo Technology will announce the WBR-G54, an 802.11g router for $199 (£126), and a CardBus adapter for $99 (£63), both expected to be available in December.

The company is pledging to replace customers' products if the final standard veers far enough from its current state so as to require changes in hardware, said Morikazu Sano, Buffalo vice-president. It may also be possible to make any necessary changes in new firmware that could be provided to end users.

"A lot of our customers are waiting for a faster speed technology for a wireless LAN. We would like to be an early adopter of 802.11g technology even though it's pre-standard, because it's backward compatible with 802.11b technology," Sano said.

As long as they are sure the vendor will support them, users who buy a pre-standard product should not fear getting stuck with something that does not work after the standard is complete, said Bob O'Donnell, an analyst at research company IDC. However, they may pay a price to be the first on the block.

"By the time the G standard comes out, the card might be even cheaper, so what have you actually gained in the meantime?" O'Donnell asked. "They'll sell that to some people who want to get future-oriented, or some small businesses, but it's not going to be a big-business play."

D-Link, another major wireless LAN vendor, will show but not demonstrate an 802.11g product in a private suite, said Bradley Morse, vice-president of marketing. It expects to ship a product early next year.

SMC Networks plans to announce in January both 802.11g and combination 802.11g/a products. The company is still deciding whether to ship products before the standard is completed, which it expects to happen in March, but it expects the products to ship in volume within the first quarter.

The new products will take off first with consumers but also will catch on with enterprises, said SMC chief executive officer Sean Keohane. For one thing, 802.11g products will be cheaper than 802.11b - about 25% to 35% when products first arrive, as compared with about 300% for 802.11a products, he said.

"G is going to be a long-term play, so we want to make sure we don't get off on the wrong foot," Keohane said. "If these things are not interoperable, that's my biggest concern."

Netgear plans to release products before the 802.11g standard is final, but chip set development has not reached the point where it can predict availability, said Patrick Lo, chairman and chief executive officer.

"If somebody tells you a definite time, don't trust that somebody," Lo said. Netgear is considering five different chip-set vendors and has not yet seen parts that meet the reliability, sensitivity, throughput or range requirements of 802.11g products, he said.

Symbol Technologies, which makes most of its wireless LAN products for specialised applications such as manufacturing and retail environments, does not expect to release an 802.11g product until mid-2003. If the standard were not signed off by that time, the product might be pre-standard, according to a Symbol spokesman.

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