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Linksys and Centrino to Work Closely

Linksys, the number one provider of home and SOHO wireless products and now a division of Cisco Systems , today did a joint announcement with chip powerhouse Intel Corp. . The two have established a joint technology and marketing program.

The two companies will be doing co-engineering between their products, specifically between Linksys wireless access points and routers, and Intel's Centrino mobile technology, which pairs mobile Pentium chips in laptops with Wi-Fi chips for wireless network connectivity.

To start, Intel is doing Centrino "verification" testing with existing Linksys products, checking for device interoperability. Anand Chandrasekher, Vice President and General Manager, Intel Mobile Platforms Group, says the tests are essentially a "super set of what the Wi-Fi Alliance does." While the Alliance concentrates on things listed in the specifications for 802.11a/b/g, Intel and Linksy are testing beyond the protocols, such as examining performance in power-managed environments and even testing user experience.

In fact, Charlie Giancarlo, Senior Vice President and General Manager Product Development at Cisco says that the testing already has improved "the amount of time it takes to detect and synch up with a laptop and access point, as well as the speed of the connection (data rate) and distance." [Subsequent notes from Intel and Cisco public relations were sent to point out that Giancarlo's quotes are "intended to represent goals the two companies want to accomplish in the future as part of the program." Meaning, the verification process alone does not speed up the connection between Centrino laptops and Linksys access points or routers.]

All the Linksys products verified -- which to date include the BEFW11S4 router, the WAP11 access point, and the WAP54G access point -- will be carrying a label reading "Verified with Intel Centrino Mobile Technology" on the outside of the box. The verification is meant to indicate an improved user experience, according to the companies, simplifying and standardizing the setup right out of the box.

The initial products verified will support 802.11b and 802.11g, with dual-band 11a/g products coming in several weeks. Right now, Centrino is only available in 802.11b mode. Products in the queue for verification include the WRT55AG dual-band router, the WAP55AG dual-band access point, and the WRT54G 802.11g router.

"The next step," says Chandrasekher, "is to build technology into the products." They admit this could lead to the two companies establishing de facto standards for the industry.

Eventually, Intel and Linksys plan to have technology in place so Centrino-based laptops will automatically find any Linksys infrastructure products that are within range. The laptops will then self-configure (or at least with minimal user effort) to utilize the connection provided. They hope to have this in place by 2004.

Some older Linksys products that are now earning "verification" -- and which will be on sale with new packaging as early as this week in some Fry's locations -- will be upgradeable to take advantage of the new verification. Linksys will make a list available on it's Web site soon, and warns that the upgrades will likely be limited to more recently sold product than those sold years ago.

This is not the first time Intel and Linksy have joined forces. In February, Linksys committed to using Intel's XScale architecture in chips used for access points. According to Giancarlo, this is almost the one year anniversary of Intel and Linksys beginning talks on this joint testing program.

This agreement does not include any distribution facility -- you won't get deals on Linksys equipment when buying a new laptop, for example. However the two companies say no extra costs will be passed on to end users.

It's also not exclusive. Intel's Chandrasekher says "If there's other opportunities with other companies, we'll look into it." On the flip side, Cisco says the announcement should also not be seen as an explicit indication that Cisco/Linksys products will be using Intel Wi-Fi chips in future products.