RealTime IT News

PCTEL, MSI Seek Wi-Fi End-around

PCTEL and Micro-Star International (MSI) hope to simplify Wi-fi setups in homes and small businesses with a new joint offering.

Under a licensing deal, MSI will bundle PCTEL's soft access point software with its WLAN devices and PC motherboards.

"We are going directly to (the designers and manufacturers)," Biju Nair, a PCTEL vice president, told internetnews.com.

Used with a Wi-Fi network interface card, the joint offering converts any PC into an access point that can link several computers through a single broadband connection.

Besides eliminating the need for external routers or access points, the companies say the joint offering is easier to use than current industry offerings. PCTEL's Segue SAM software automatically scans the user's PC and configures in seconds, "illuminating" the area with Wi-Fi capability in seconds.

Although most wireless home networking equipment vendors offer phone or online help, installation hassles, real or perceived, are viewed as a speed bump to wider Wi-Fi adoption. Still, Gartner Group recently said shipments of wireless networking equipment will grow at a 30 percent compound annual growth rate through 2007.

MSI will ship motherboards with the PCTel soft access points (APs) beginning in February. PCs with soft AP functionality would likely be available by the end of the first quarter of 2004. MSI will also ship Wi-Fi cards with the Segue software on CD; those are also expected in February.

A spokesperson for Linksys, the leading maker of home networking routers and access points, and a subsidiary of Cisco , was not immediately available to comment on the PCTEL/MSI offering.

Other industry heavyweights, including Microsoft and Intel have also explored the idea of moving access points into the computer.

PCTel launched Segue SAM earlier this month. The software currently works with GlobespanVirata's Wi-Fi chips (formerly Intersil's chips), but the company is working closely with other chipset makers and hopes to eventually be compatible with all WLAN chips.

For PCTEL, the deal comes a week after it inked a $14.5 million licensing deal with Intel. Under that pact, Intel will receive a license to all of PCTEL's patents, while PC-Tel will receive a cross-license to Intel-owned patents that relate to its areas of focus. While the Intel patent deal was primarily for older modem technology, it does "open the door" to future partnership discussion, Nair said.

Finally, a new version of the software due in late January promises bolstered security, including 802.1X authentication, which should appeal to business customers, Nair said.

Although the offering may make it easier to build a Wi-Fi network, there are other considerations, especially for businesses, said Julie Ask, a Wi-Fi analyst for Jupiter Research (owned by the same company as this Web site). Many companies have concerns about security and the use of resources, she said.

"Allowing a computer to work as a 'pass-thru' point in a network (is) great in theory to create digital ubiquity," Ask said. "But not everyone wants other people sharing their processing power or bandwidth. I don't think it's threatening Linksys yet - many people looking for just the opposite -- to block access to their computer."

Financial terms of the licensing agreement between PCTEL and Taiwan's MSI, one of the world's top 5 designers and manufacturers of motherboards, were not disclosed. Wi-Fi Planet, a sister site of internetnews.com, contributed to this report.