11g – “The New Mainstream”

For those who have been putting off buying an 802.11b-based wireless LAN because it’s too slow at that measly 11 or 22 megabits per second (Mbps), yet don’t want higher-speed 802.11a products because they aren’t compatible with all the WLAN equipment already out there, or you don’t want to spend the extra cash on the hybrid dual-band products — perhaps your time has come.

The draft of the 802.11g specification, which has the speed (54Mbps) and modulation scheme (OFDM) of 802.11a and is compatible with 802.11b because they share the 2.4GHz radio frequency band, has arrived. Sort of. Products that support the specification based on the current draft from the IEEE, are out in force at the Comdex show in Las Vegas this week.

The latest supporter of 802.11g is integrated circuit maker Broadcom of Irvine, CA. Today the company announced its AirForce 54g technology which will bring 802.11g to its new chipsets.

Jeff Abramowitz, Senior Director, Marketing at Broadcom, says 54g is, specifically a 54Mbps version of the draft of 802.11g (the draft requires only a minimum speed of 24Mbps). He calls 802.11g “the new mainstream” for WLANs… “It’s faster than b, has greater range, and has complete backwards compatibility.”

The two-chip, CMOS-based set, the Broadcom BCM4306 baseband/MAC (media access controller) chip works with the improved BCM2050 2.4GHz radio. Even 802.11b performance through this radio will be improved according to Abramowitz. The company also has a two-chip 802.11b product at the show.

Broadcom also has a dual-band baseband/MAC chip, the BCM4309 for 802.11a/b/54g, plus the BCM4702 wireless network processor for 802.11a/b/54g.

Announcements from vendors that will support Broadcom 54g have already come out: Belkin and Netgear will both have 54g products available in 2003, Buffalo Technologies is showing a 54g access point at Comdex this week which should be available by the end of the year with a CardBus adapter, and Linksys says it will ship what it calls “Wireless-G” products (a PC Card, access point and wireless router) in the first week of December. Based on numbers from Synergy Research Group, those latter three alone have a combined market share of 51.1% of the SOHO and home WLAN market.

Other companies who’ve signed on for 54g include AMD, Bromax, Fujitsu, and HP.

“The ‘g’ standard gives us a chance to differentiate speed and performance, “says Abramowitz. “The retail vendors see that and say they can charge a premium over the commodity products on the shelf. So we’ve got most if not all the retail vendors in the world ready to ship 54g.”

All products using Broadcom’s solution will ship branded with the “54g” logo to indicate their own interoperability. Despite the claims of interoperability, none of the 54g products will have been tested by an outside agency like the Wi-Fi Alliance. That industry group probably won’t start testing 802.11g products until well after the specification is final in mid-2003. Broadcom is a member of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Even Toshiba’s Computer Systems Group, new to the WLAN party, will ship its new $179 WRC-1000 wireless Cable/DSL Router using Broadcom chips, though using the BCM4702 and only supporting 802.11b. That groups parent division, Toshiba America Electronic Components (TAEC), recently announced it’s making its own high-speed 802.11a-based chips.

Broadcom is not alone in 802.11g support at Comdex. Last week Intersil announced its plans to show off 802.11g with its PRISM GT chipset in a Ubicom access point.

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