Intel still lags in Wi-Fi race despite chip launch

Intel introduced the third version of its Centrino Wi-Fi chip set last week, but it still runs at least a generation behind...

Intel introduced the third version of its Centrino Wi-Fi chip set last week, but it still runs at least a generation behind competitors whose products offer more features, including longer range and faster throughput. 

Intel's new PRO/Wireless 2200BG Wi-FI chip, packed in an embedded mini-peripheral component interconnect (PCI) adapter, incorporates both the 802.11b and 802.11g Wi-Fi standards, which support raw data rates of 11Mbit/sec. and 54Mbit/sec. respectively in the unlicensed 2.4-GHz band. 

Last March, Intel introduced its first Centrino product for notebook and tablet computers, a processor that operated on the 802.11b standard only. In October, it a dual-band Wi-Fi Centrino chip set that supported the 802.11b and the 802.11a standards. The 802.11a standard has a raw data rate of 54Mbit/sec, but unlike 802.11g, it operates in the 5-GHz band. 

Both Atheros Communications and Broadcom offered dual-band 802.11 b/g chip sets before Intel introduced Centrino last year. And Both continue to outpace Intel in the breadth and depth of their offerings, which include tri-mode 802.11 a/b/g chip sets. 

Intel spokesman Daniel Francisco said the company will begin production of its own tri-band Wi-FI chips by the middle of the year, with shipments to customers slated for the second half of 2004. 

Atheros vice president of business development Colin Macnab said that if Intel introduces a tri-mode version of Centrino in the latter half of 2004, "it will put them just under two years behind us".

He said Atheros, which introduced a tri-mode chip set in March 2002, expects to announce its fifth generation of products shortly and noted that Intel's $300m Centrino advertising campaign has increased the visibility of all Wi-Fi products,. 

Asked about Intel's ability to keep pace with the Wi-Fi market, Francisco said Intel is doing just that. At any given time, he said, one manufacturer or another may have a more advanced chip set. He emphasised that Intel is concentrating on the Wi-Fi user "experience" which, the company, believes is best met by an embedded, rather than add-on, client. 

He added that Intel believes it is keeping pace with the Wi-Fi market and its access-point infrastructure.On enterprise and public-access networks, the infrastructure is primarily 802.11b, with 802.11g just gaining acceptance. 

Earlier this month, Broadcom said it had shipped 11 million 802.11g chip sets, which are used in notebooks from manufacturers such as Apple Computer Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Gateway. Wi-Fi access-point manufacturers using Broadcom chips include the Linksys Group subsidiary of Cisco Systems, Motorola and Microsoft. 

Major notebook manufacturers such as Dell, IBM and Gateway offer customers a choice of either a built-in Centrino chip set or a mini-PCI card incorporating either Atheros or Broadcom technology. 

last September, Atheros introduced what it calls Extended Range technology, which is claimed to double the range of Wi-Fi gear. The range now runs from roughly 100ft indoors to about 300ff outdoors. 

At the same time, Atheros introduced technology claimed to double the raw data rates for both 802.11a and 802.11g chips from 54Mbit/sec. to 108Mbit/sec, with end-user data rates of roughly 90Mbit/sec. 

Atheros customers include IBM and HP, which use the company's products in client cards. Proxim, which manufactures enterprise-class access points, uses Atheros chip sets. HP also uses Atheros products in its access points.

Bob Brewin writes for Computerworld

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