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Three's Company on 802.11 Planet

PHILADELPHIA -- With 802.11a products due to hit the market soon and an 802.11g standard in the offing, a battle between the two standards for the mantle of successor to 802.11b would seem only natural. In the end, though, the 802.11 world might just be big enough for all three.

That was the message this morning at the 802.11 Planet Conference, which is hosted by internetnews.com's parent company, INT Media Group.

Yorman Solomon, director of business development for Texas Instrument's wireless networking business unit, neatly summed up the situation.

"802.11b is here to stay," he said, "and it's here to coexist with 802.11a and 802.11g."

The reason for the resilience of 802.11b, also known as Wi-Fi, is its continued popularity. In his keynote opening the conference Tuesday morning, Dennis Eaton, chairman of the 802.11 trade group Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), said Wi-Fi was a "promiscuous technology," outstripping even the most optimistic predictions. "The growth has never ceased to amaze me," he said, "and we believe we're at the beginning of the growth curve."

Eaton referred to statistics from Cahners In-Stat that 50 million people would use 802.11 in 2005. Solomon said that figure was most likely low, joking, "This is the first time in history I say the numbers from the analysts are way too low."

Both Jim Zyren, the director of strategic marketing in Intersil's wireless networking products unit, and Richard Redelfs, CEO and president of Atheros Communications, agreed.

"You have to have 802.11b, it's the standard," Zyren said.

Yet, instead of the market shaping up to be a fight between 802.11a and 802.11g for those 50 million will use, Solomon said 802.11b will continue to hold sway because its install base is already between 15 million and 20 million.

"We want to drive this industry and 11b is the standard that;s going to drive this industry," he said.

The future will most likely bring more dual-band devices, like Intersil's announcement of Duette last week. While Intersil's Zyren touted 802.11g's coverage and Atheros' Redelfs sang the praises of 802.11a's roomy 5GHz spectrum space, both agreed that a universal client would eventually take root. Naturally, they disagreed about which standard would operate most prominently along Wi-Fi.

Once again, however, Solomon was able to split the difference, saying, "Let's use both. Why do we need to choose one over the other?"