Microsoft joins 802.11g WLAN game

Microsoft Corp. introduced 802.11g-based wireless networking gear Tuesday, catching up with rivals Cisco Systems Inc., Netgear Inc. and D-Link Systems Inc.

New in Microsoft's wireless LAN line are an 802.11g access point with four-port Ethernet switch, the Microsoft Wireless Base Station MN-700, and wireless cards for portable computers and desktops, the Wireless Notebook Adapter MN-720 and Wireless PCI Adapter MN-730, respectively, Microsoft said in a statement.

The Redmond, Washington, vendor also introduced an adapter for the Xbox game console, the Xbox Wireless Adapter MN-740. This 802.11g adapter allows gamers to make their Xbox part of a wireless network, removing the need to run cables to the game console for the Xbox Live online gaming service, Microsoft said.

The new base station offers easy installation through wizards and adds a parental control feature that is not present on the existing 802.11b base station. Users can restrict access to specific Web sites by clients on the wireless network. Also, software updates can be automatically installed and WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) security is enabled by default, Microsoft said.

The 802.11g technology supports transmission speeds up to 54M bps (bits per second), much faster than the 11M bps supported by the popular 802.11b standard. Both standards operate in the 2.4GHz band, allowing 802.11b cards to work with an 802.11g access point.

Microsoft last year September entered the WLAN fray with 802.11b based products, allowing users to share Internet connections, printers and files between computers wirelessly. Microsoft rapidly won market share and claimed the number two position in U.S. retail sales in terms of revenue and units sold in December.

However, as competitors launched 802.11g products, Microsoft saw its market share drop. Microsoft waited for interoperability certification to launch its products, Wi-Fi certification for the new Microsoft 802.11g products was completed last month, Product Manager Todd Greenberg said.

The new products, available only in the U.S. and Canada, are to help Microsoft win back the market share it lost.

Expected street price for the new base station is US$100, Greenberg said. The notebook and desktop adapters will retail for $80, while a combo pack of base station and notebook adapter, the Wireless Notebook Kit MN-820, will cost $170, he said. The Xbox adapter will cost $129, according to Greenberg.

Microsoft will sell its 802.11b products alongside the new 802.11g line. The former products are cheaper.

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