Intel Turns to Atheros to Kick Start 802.11a Push

Intel Corp., which on Monday upgraded its status in the Wireless Ethernet
Compatibility Alliance (WECA) to board member from general member, has
turned to Sunnyvale, Calif.-based start-up Atheros Communications Inc., to
help with its wireless LAN (WLAN) efforts.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant plans to ship WLAN products
based on chipsets designed by Atheros, a company founded in May 1998 by
Stanford University professor Dr. Teresa H. Meng., who has been developing
the IEEE 802.11a standard which transfers data at rates of 54 megabits per
seconds (Mbps) over the relatively uncongested 5 GHz band of the
eletromagnetic spectrum.

Atheros, which recently demonstrated its 802.11 circuitry to last month, has a
two-chip “radio-on-a-chip” (RoC) solution that is standardized on the 0.25
micron digital CMOS — one of the only companies that currently has 802.11a
silicon on the market.

“It’s very good for Atheros. Here you have the validation of one of the
more significant players in the market,” said Navin Sabharwal, vice
president of residential & networking technologies at Allied Business
Intelligence. “Ultimately, they [Intel] want to become first to market.
Right now, they don’t have any choice but to use Atheros.”

The marketing prowess of a behemoth like Intel gives Atheros a clear
advantage compared with other start-ups pushing the nascent 802.11a
specification. Other Atheros customers include Proxim Inc. and TDK Corp.

And conversely, thanks to Atheros’ development efforts, Intel expects to
have products on the market before the end of this year, possibly as early
as November. Just weeks ago, the company formalized its strategy of WLAN based on 802.11b after switching from the HomeRF
standard last spring. To many observers, Intel was seen as a late entrant
into the 802.11 market. However, Intel is expected to develop its own
proprietary 802.11a chipset in the future.

Still, the presence of a giant like Intel doesn’t bother incumbent
players like Irvine, Calif.-based Intersil. According to Chris Henningsen,
Intersil’s vice president of marketing, the company is expecting to ship
silicon based on 802.11a within the next 45 days. In addition, Intersil’s
proposal for 802.11g next week is widely expected to become an official
standard of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

To be sure, while time-to-market could provide early advantages,
Sabharwal believes that the ramp-up on 802.11 WLAN will be slow because as
new products roll out, they will have to meet interoperability standards.
“IT managers are also going to look for testing and qualification as an
important criteria, especially because .11a product will be aimed at
enterprise markets,” the analyst explained.

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