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Broadcom Uses Software to Upgrade 11g

Broadcom of Irvine, CA, one of the first companies to supply wireless LAN chip sets based on the draft of the 802.11g specification, has announced a software upgrade that will bring products based on chips using 54g -- Broadcom's name for its implementation of 802.11g -- in line with specifications of the latest version of the actual 11g draft (version 6.1) from the IEEE .

Early 802.11g products, including Broadcom 54g-based products such as those from Buffalo Technology and Linksys, have sold amazingly -- Linksys alone shipped 100,000 54g products in the first month of sales. Such products have also taken a beating in reports that they don't work well with current 802.11b products and that 11g performance alone is sub-par. Many blame this on the need to freeze the design of the early 802.11g chips months ago so they could go into production. In theory, this latest upgrade to the 6.1 version of the draft specification should improve performance and interoperability.

The software upgrade is called OneDriver. Jeff Abramowitz, senior director of marketing for Broadcom's wireless LAN products, says that while it's a software upgrade, "to the access point it looks like firmware, as it runs on the Broadcom BCM4702 processor." The name OneDriver comes from the support it provides for multiple standard: 802.11abg.

"To the average user [software vs. firmware], it's not much of a distinction," says Abramowitz. "The good news is, it's a lot easier on a laptop -- it's much easier to upgrade," rather than flashing a chip.

The OneDriver software has been out to Broadcom's customers in the retail, modem and OEM markets that make products using the 54g chip for a while. End users will have to wait to get the OneDriver upgrade from the vendors of their 54g-based products. According to Abramowitz, Linksys is already providing the upgrade for its Wireless-G access point (model WAP54G); the Linksys Web site lists it as firmware v1.06, dated February 18, 2003. Linksys client card upgrades will follow soon.

In addition to upgrading 54g, Broadcom also announced that the chipset received Wi-Fi Certification for the 802.11b interoperability portion of the chip. Aaron Vance, analyst for Synergy Research Group says this the major news: "Because of the pre-g standard they used, the B only clients were getting overlooked," says Vance. "They became second priority in a G environment. I guess now this won't be the case. B clients will get the same priority."

This certification is not for the 802.11g interoperability: the Wi-Fi Alliance has stated its testing of 11g will not start until after the specification is ratified this summer. The certification is specifically for two reference designs the company supplies to customers, the BCM94306CB and BCM94306-GAP. Buffalo Technology has already announced that they separately got Wi-Fi Certification on the 802.11b interoperability of their 54g products based on these designs.

The IEEE 802.11 Working Group recently gave its approval to the 6.1 draft for 802.11g, but the specification will remain out for comment for a few months, with ratification expected by June.