Caution urged for 802.11a Wireless Ethernet solutions

Wi-Fi industry experts are warning enterprise-level companies to "go slow" on adoption of the next generation of Wireless Ethernet solutions, 802.11a.

Although 802.11a running on a 5GHz band, dubbed Wi-Fi 5, promises 54Mbps performance as opposed to 802.11b's 11Mbps, independent hardware vendors are recommending a cautious policy for their customers and backing it up with dual-band solutions that will protect companies against future changes and problems with Wi-Fi 5.

"Make sure you are not on the bleeding edge," advised Ray Martino, vice president of network products at Symbol Technologies in New York. He said users can expect a more limited feature set than currently found in 802.11b products, listing such missing items as full security capabilities, network management, and roaming.

The distance at which Wi-Fi 5 will perform at peak 54Mbps before performance drops will improve over time, so early adopters of Wi-Fi 5 are likely to have products with a shorter peak performance range than those who wait.

To protect its customers, Symbol Technologies will offer its Mobius product line, including dual-band access points and software that can be used to upgrade access points when the technology stabilises.

San Diego-based Agere Systems sells Orinoco AP-2000 Access Point and AS-2000 Access Point dual-band access point products, which will also allow users to transition to 802.11a.

"We at Agere don't think [802.11a] will be commonplace for a year or two," said Mark Shapiro, an Agere representative. "The technology is still in flux. Europe and Asia haven't decided on allocating the frequencies for 'a'."

The reluctance of computer makers to evangelise the benefits of 802.11a with the same fervour that 802.11b was praised prior to its availability could also hinder 802.11a's widespread adoption. Set on avoiding customer confusion, computer makers such as Hewlett-Packard, Dell and IBM are tempering their embrace of the faster protocol, in some cases looking beyond it to 802.11g.

"We think we will see a lot of companies roll out 'b' and augment it with 'a' where they need higher bandwidth. But 'g' will be the true successor to 'b' because of its backwards compatibility to both 'a' and 'b'," said Alex Thatcher, wireless solutions product manager at HP. Representatives of Dell and IBM were also reluctant to endorse 802.11a as the successor to 802.11b.

The issue over handheld devices is even more problematic. Handhelds currently support a 16-bit bus for PC Card and Compact Flash II add-on cards. Wi-Fi 5, in its first iteration, uses a 32-bit bus technology and will not work with current handhelds.

Meanwhile, Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) will not perform product interoperability testing at least until a second 802.11a chip-set manufacturer ships product, which is expected to happen in the second half of 2002, a WECA representative said. Currently, only Atheros is making 802.11a chip sets.

Intel's Pro/Wireless 5000 LAN Access Point, a dual-band product due out this quarter, will use the Atheros chip set for the 802.11a portion. Intel will make its own chip set but the date has not been announced. Intel says it supports the new technology.

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More about AgereAgere SystemsDellHewlett-Packard AustraliaHPIBM AustraliaIntelOrinocoSymbol TechnologiesWireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance

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