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Buffalo Wi-Fi gear extends network range

Wi-Fi equipment maker's latest products connect with Airgo's MIMO to expand reach of networks.

Networking equipment manufacturer Buffalo Technology is preparing new products it hopes will ease the No. 1 concern of Wi-Fi gear buyers: lack of range.

The Austin, Texas-based company announced Monday that its $189 AirStation MIMO Wireless Cable/DSL Router and its $119 AirStation MIMO Wireless Notebook Adapter will be available mid-May. The company is using start-up Airgo Networks' wireless networking chips based on MIMO technology. The chips will triple the range of networks based on Buffalo products compared with current Wi-Fi products, according to Buffalo representatives. The chips will also increase the data throughput by eight times, the company said.

MIMO (pronounced "my-mo") stands for multiple input, multiple output and refers to the use of more than one antenna to send and receive two or more unique data streams over the same channel simultaneously in wireless devices, resulting in networks with long ranges and high throughputs. It is currently the primary basis for the proposed 802.11n standard, which will offer actual throughput rates of more than 100mbps (megabits per second) and is scheduled to be completed in late 2006, with products based on the standard coming out in early 2007.

Networking companies are turning to MIMO technology as the next leap forward in the wireless networking market. Faster speeds were the initial focus of consumers as the market transitioned from 802.11b-based products to 802.11g--802.11b products had wireless transfer speeds topping out at 11mbps, while 802.11g products aimed for 54mbps. (Real-life speeds were roughly half that.)

U.S. consumers are now eyeing range, and Buffalo is the latest to use MIMO technology to provide added network coverage. Actual wireless coverage of networks using any wireless technology is difficult to estimate because interference can come in a number of forms, including other wireless devices, such as cordless phones or microwaves, and solid objects, such as walls and furniture.

"Our products are currently at the expensive end of the market, but we're targeting the high end at this stage," said Morikazu Sano, vice president of product marketing and public relations with Buffalo.

Sano added that products offering extended range would eventually move into the market mainstream in the same way 802.11g products started out on the high end and became more accessible as prices fell.

Buffalo joins wireless networking market leaders Linksys, D-Link, Netgear and Belkin in introducing gear based on MIMO technology. Linksys, Netgear and D-Link were among the market share leaders in the U.S. consumer wireless networking market for the fourth quarter of last year, according to market research firm Synergy Research.

Like Buffalo, Linksys and Belkin rely on Airgo's technology in their MIMO products, which Sano described as the "true MIMO technology." Netgear also sells products using Airgo's chips. D-Link and Netgear, however, use Atheros' Super G with MIMO technology.

"MIMO is difficult to develop, and while Atheros' solution is cheaper, there's nothing really unique with their solution," Sano said. Customers are looking for range and distance, and Airgo's chips provide it, he maintained.

Buffalo uses other, non-MIMO Wi-Fi chips by Atheros, which Sano said were "fabulous."