Wi-Fi bandwidth breakthroughs leave consumers behind

IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless

As the market for wireless networking products continues to grow, vendors are constantly one-upping each other with performance claims for their products. However, it's a moot point to millions of U.S. and European home users stuck with Internet connection speeds far below the bandwidth promised by new 802.11g products.

Cisco Systems Inc.'s Linksys division Monday announced a new wireless router using Broadcom Corp.'s chipset technology that promises to improve the real-world performance that most home users experience using 802.11g wireless networks. The same day, Broadcom rival Atheros Communications Inc. unveiled a software update that will improve the bandwidth of 802.11g products based on its chips.

Wireless networking standards, such as 802.11g, are marketed with a maximum throughput figure that typical home users fall well short of under normal conditions. For 802.11g, the standard is capable of connecting wireless devices at up to 54 Mbps (bits per second), but most users see about 20 Mbps to 25 Mbps depending on the layout of their home or the materials used in the walls and floors.

Linksys' new Wireless-G Broadband Router with SpeedBooster is said to improve real-world network performance by up to 35 percent, the company claimed in a press release. It costs US$129.99, and will be available in April. Linksys also released Monday plug-in cards with the SpeedBooster technology for both desktop and notebook PCs that cost $99.99.

In tests conducted by the company and by independent organizations, a wireless network using the new router and new plug-in cards was able to produce bandwidth of about 34 Mbps, said Mike Wagner, director of marketing for Linksys. The company saw an increase in performance of about 20 percent if only one of the new products was used on a wireless network, he said.

Users of wireless products based on Atheros' Super G technology can now download a software update that allows their networks to toggle between two wireless performance modes that offer up to 40 Mbps and 60 Mbps of bandwidth, said Colin Mcnabb, vice president of marketing and business development for Atheros. The 60 Mbps mode, known as Dynamic Turbo, uses a controversial technique called channel bonding that Broadcom and some independent testers claim impedes the performance of neighboring wireless networks based on other technology.

The new software allows an Atheros chipset to scan other wireless channels for traffic and make a decision to enable the channel bonding mode based on the levels of traffic present on those networks, Mcnabb said. This was a planned software update to hardware introduced last year, and was not done in response to Broadcom's claims, he said.

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