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Toshiba looks to cut gadget wires

The device maker announces plans to unveil 802.11a wireless networking chips geared for the home entertainment industry in November.

Electronics giant Toshiba announced plans Thursday to bring wireless networking to home entertainment.

The company in November will unveil new chips for televisions, stereos and DVDs--as well as for laptops and modems--allowing such devices to wirelessly exchange information, according to Andrew Burt, Toshiba's wireless marketing director.

The chips are based on the 802.11a wireless standard. The standard is used in devices to create wireless "zones" of Internet access, with speeds ranging up to 54mbps (megabits per second).

Toshiba is the latest electronic device maker hoping to ride the wireless networking wave to boost sales. Intersil on Wednesday announced its own plans for producing 802.11a wireless networking chipsets.

More manufacturers are planning to add wireless networking to laptops, PDAs (personal digital assistants) and PCs. However, the most popular wireless networking standard--802.11b, or Wi-Fi--doesn't create a signal powerful enough to send cable or digital music signals any further than a few feet at high speeds.

Home entertainment devices, which often create a tangle of wires to and from each other, are a natural customer for wireless networking. The issue of data transfer, however, has inhibited equipment makers from taking the plunge.

However, the 802.11a standard, which offers five times the speed of 802.11b, could potentially solve the problem, analysts say. "The high data speed was definitely a requirement," Burt said.

Farhad Mafie, vice president for Toshiba's chip division, said the company created the 802.11a chip to address "the emerging market of wireless audio and video distribution in the home of the future. We believe...it will become one of the key standards."

Gartner wireless analyst Ken Dulaney said device makers' intentions make sense--just not right now.

Chipsets and other 802.11a hardware on the market are still in their first generation, he said. Also, 802.11a is also not a truly universal standard. In Europe, where Intel and others are now selling 802.11a equipment, many governments haven't approved of the use of the spectrum that the networks need.

"This is a crazy time when vendors are going to be producing this stuff," Dulaney said. "But there's about a year of time now when 802.11a will be highly unsettled. Things could dramatically change."