TI to release WLAN software for 802.11a/g access points

Wireless LAN (WLAN) access points using new software from Texas Instruments Inc. (TI) will be able to simultaneously support 802.11g and 802.11a connections using a single chipset, the company said Monday.

TI is working with access point vendors to have products available with its new wOne software around the start of the second quarter, said Lucy Huang, product manager for WLAN products at the Dallas company. Several WLAN access points are available that can create both 802.11a and 802.11g networks, but products with wOne will be the first to accomplish that using a single WLAN chipset, she said.

The most widely used WLAN technology based on the 802.11 standard is 802.11b, but 802.11a and 802.11g networks offer more bandwidth. Products that run on 802.11g are compatible with 802.11b products because the two networks use the 2.4GHz frequency band of the electromagnetic spectrum. Products based on 802.11a offer comparable networking speeds to 802.11g products but use the 5GHz frequency band, which is less prone to interference with other home wireless devices that use the 2.4GHz band.

Wireless users have been slow to embrace the 802.11a standard because of its incompatibility with older 802.11b products, as well as its shorter range and higher price tag as compared to 802.11b and 802.11g products. Analysts believe that 802.11a will eventually find a niche as a standard for home media wireless networking, because the range problem isn't as much of an issue in a living room and the limited interference will allow for smoother delivery of movies and audio.

WLAN routers are available from manufacturers such as D-Link Corp. and Netgear Inc. that offer simultaneous connections using at least two 802.11a/b/g dualband chipsets, Huang said. Current dualband chipsets can only create one type of network, either an 802.11a network or a 802.11b/g network, at a given time. This adds cost to the manufacturing process, which is passed on to the customer, she said.

TI's software will allow consumers, telecommuters and small businesses to pay slightly more for a WLAN router than can simultaneously support all three 802.11 standards as compared to a 802.11b/g router, Huang said. Right now, enterprises are the dominant market for dualband WLAN products because consumers and small businesses aren't willing to pay US$250 or more for a WLAN router with 802.11a technology that they won't use very often, she said.

Consumers who are interested in using 802.11a technology but don't want to spend that much money will be able to purchase routers using TI's software and a single 802.11b/g/a chipset for about $10 to $20 more than a typical 802.11b/g router, Huang said. Most 802.11b/g products cost between $99 and $129, she said.

Performance will suffer when a WLAN router with TI's software is operated in simultaneous mode, Huang said. Users can expect around 20M bps (bits per second) of bandwidth when connected to either a single 802.11a or 802.11g network, she said. But when the router is supporting clients on both networking technologies, the bandwidth drops to around 10M bps per client, she said.

This is still plenty of bandwidth for most consumers and small businesses that are only connected to the Internet through 1M bps or 2M bps cable modems or DSL (digital subscriber line) connections, Huang said.

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