Linksys jumps on faster Wi-Fi bandwagon

The biggest seller of home wireless LAN equipment is set to launch its gear for the next technology generation on Monday, introducing three products based on a draft of the IEEE 802.11n standard.

The still-emerging standard is designed to deliver at least 100 Mbps (bits per second) of real throughput. That's more than most wired Ethernet connections and with its improved range is enough to send multiple high-definition video streams throughout a typical home, according to Cisco Systems Inc.'s Linksys division. The Irvine, California, company is set to launch a wireless router, notebook card and gateway on Monday.

Vendors are lining up to offer consumers equipment based on a preliminary version of the standard even though they can't guarantee it will work with other early products. But unless a consumer is already doing huge downloads or trying to send video over a wireless LAN, it makes more sense to wait until next year for lower prices anyway, according to ABI Research analyst Mike Wolf.

The WRT300N Wireless-N Broadband Router and WPC300N Wireless-N Notebook Adapter are available online immediately from BestBuy.com and coming to other retailers soon. The router has an estimated street price of $149.99 and the PC Card is expected to sell for $119.99, double or more the prices of standard consumer 802.11g gear, which has a theoretical top speed of 54 Mbps. The products are just the first of a series of offerings to be based on the draft 802.11n standard, according to Cisco. Also Monday, the company is announcing a DSL gateway with the new technology, shipping in Europe starting May 15, Cisco said. Other products in the Wireless-N family, for both homes and small businesses, will come in the second half of this year.

All the draft 11n products are backward compatible with the current 802.11b and 802.11g specifications and certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance industry group for that capability, said Malachy Moynihan, vice president and general manager of Linksys' home networking unit. The products also include WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) encryption for security.

Support for home wireless video, which is not widely used with current wireless LANs, will be the major benefit of 802.11n, ABI's Wolf said. Developments such as AT&T Inc.'s April 18 deal to send Akimbo Systems Inc. video-on-demand content over DSL indicate that the vision of converged computing and entertainment is moving forward, he said. In addition to streaming content between a PC and a wireless LAN-equipped TV or set-top box, consumers with high-speed wireless will find it easier to take matters into their own hands, he said.

"People are just going to send their own recorded shows onto their portable devices," such as mobile phones and game players, he predicted.

Linksys hopes buyers will be able to upgrade to the final standard with software, but can't guarantee it, Moynihan said. Interoperability among products will be a more complicated question under 802.11n than with earlier standards, he said. The standard lets vendors use different numbers of radios and antennas, so various combinations of products will be capable of different speeds. There may also be optional elements added to the standard to handle mobile-device issues such as roaming and power management, he added.

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