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Intel readies Wi-Fi chips

The chipmaker says its much-anticipated combination 802.11a/b part is ready for shipment, and its new combination 802.11b/g part is being sampled by major customers.

A much-anticipated Wi-Fi part from Intel is finally available for high-volume shipments, and the company's next-generation part is being sampled by major customers.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company has twice pushed back the availability of its combination 802.11a/b Wi-Fi part, which it calls the Intel Pro/Wireless 2100A. But, as expected, it is now ready for customers to use in Centrino-based notebooks, Intel announced Monday.

Volume shipments of Intel's next Wi-Fi chips, a combination 802.11b/g part, won't be ready until the end of the year and should be in notebooks in the first half, according to Intel spokesman Dan Francisco.

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The Pro/Wireless 2100A will contain two radio chips. The 802.11a radio will come from Intel and is the company's first homegrown Wi-Fi chip. The 802.11b radio will come from Philips Semiconductors, Francisco said.

Other companies are already making integrated 802.11a/b chips, which are cheaper than using two chips, a sign that Intel is behind competitors such as Broadcom and Texas Instruments. Even as the company has faced these delays, Intel President Paul Otellini and other executives have called 802.11 chips commodity products, implying they should be easy to make.

"It (communications) is not their forte," said Kevin Krewell, senior editor of the Microprocessor Report. "They are trying to be the Intel of the Wi-Fi market, and they are not the Intel of Wi-Fi," referring to Intel's dominance in the computer processor business.

The company said it plans to come out with a combination 802.11a/b/g part in the first half of next year.

Current Centrino-based notebooks use 802.11b chips, allowing them to wirelessly connect to networks using the 802.11b Wi-Fi standard. The Centrino bundle of chips includes an Intel Pentium M processor, an Intel 855 chipset and an Intel Pro/Wireless network chip.

Chips that use the 802.11b standard can wirelessly transmit data at 11 megabits per second in the 2.4GHz radio band. The 802.11a standard allows for the wireless transmission of data at 54mbps in the 5GHz radio band. The 802.11g standard is interoperable with the 802.11b standard and uses the same 2.4GHz radio band, but it can transmit data at 54mbps.

The availability of the combination 802.11a/b part was twice delayed while the chipmaker said it was in the process of validating and testing the part.

CNET's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report.