Microsoft Unveils High-Speed Home WLAN

Microsoft, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant, has had great success over
the years with small lines of hardware geared toward consumers. It was no different
a year ago when they launched a line
of 802.11b Wi-Fi products
. For a while it looked like that might be all
they’d ever do with Wi-Fi hardware.

Today, however, the company unveiled its Wireless-G line, a 54Mbps 802.11g-based
line up of products for home networks that includes:

  • Wireless Base Station (model MN-700, $109 street price) — a router
    with integrated 4-port Ethernet switch and 802.11g access point; it runs the
    embedded Windows CE .NET 4.2 OS, which Microsoft
    announced this year
    as a competitor to many routers running Linux and
    proprietary operating systems.
  • Wireless Notebook Adapter (model MN-720, $84.95) — a PC Card for
    laptops
  • Wireless PCI Adapter (model MN-730, $84.95) — an internal card for
    desktops
  • Wireless Notebook Kit (model MN-820, $179) — includes the router
    and the PC Card for a few bucks less.
  • Xbox Wireless Adapter (model MN-740, $139) — gets the Microsoft-made
    Xbox gaming console in on wireless head-to-head games (via ad hoc mode) or
    connected to the Internet for running the Xbox Live service.

All of the PC products will be available in stores as soon as this weekend,
with some online outlets already taking advanced orders. The entire line of
PC products will use Broadcom’s AirForce 802.11g chips. The previous line of
11b products had chips from Intersil.

The Xbox Adapter — which is using an Atheros chip — won’t be out until the
first week of October. As of November, if it’s purchased with the $49.99 Xbox
Live Version 2 Starter Kit, customers can get a $40 rebate.

Major innovations are sparse on the computer unit. The real selling point,
of course, is the Microsoft name. The use of CE .NET 4.2 will let the company’s
Auto Update service automatically patch upgrades to the unit just like Windows
Update does to XP. Microsoft is proud of the software wizards for setup — it’s
always a good bet Microsoft can get something to work well with Windows.

Security includes Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and Wired Equivalent Privacy
(WEP). In fact, Microsoft continues to be the only vendor that ships with WEP
turned on by default. Users are forced to create a WEP key when running the
setup wizard software. The firewall in the router supports stateful packet inspection
(SPI) and network address translation (NAT), and includes parental controls
which don’t require any extra fee.

The Xbox Adapter goes further than its wireless-game-adapter competition, by
linking directly into the Xbox on-screen dashboard. That’s a perk of being a
"first-party" product — the Microsoft Wireless Broadband group created
the product with help from the Xbox developers. Third-party adapters have to
have the network SSID or security eky configured on a PC before attaching it
to the Xbox, but this unit can be setup right on the TV screen. The Xbox adapter,
however, only supports WEP, not WPA, at least for now. Future updates to the
adapter can take place, however, using the Auto Update feature, just like with
the PC products.

Most third-party Ethernet-to-wireless adapters support the Xbox, especially
those meant to be "game console specific." Linksys has an
11g version
out, D-Link’s with 11g
is on the way, and Buffalo Technology
announced a unit today (the AirStation 54Mbps Wireless Ethernet Converter -g,
model WLI-TX1-G54, $129 street) that also brings 802.11g to the Xbox and other
Ethernet peripherals.

Microsoft’s Xbox Wireless Adapter, however, can only be setup on an Xbox —
something the company says was requested by customers — but once configured
it can be used on other Ethernet-equipped products such as Playstation 2 or
a network printer.

All of the Microsoft Wireless-G products will be for sale for slightly higher
retail price at www.microsoft.com/broadbandnetworking
and at major retailers including Best Buy, Amazon.com, Buy.com, Target, Staples,
Circuit City, Radio Shack, and CompUSA.

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