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Intel wares favor Wi-Fi for home networking

The chipmaker will ship new wireless home-computing products Wednesday that support a wireless technology the company once competed against.

Intel will ship new wireless home-computing products Wednesday that support a wireless technology the giant chipmaker once competed against.

Intel early last year became one of the first companies to sell technology that allows consumers to wirelessly connect their home computers and share the same Net connection. The company supported a wireless standard called HomeRF that was backed by wireless technology provider Proxim as well as giants Siemens, Motorola and Compaq Computer.

But with HomeRF support sagging, Intel five months ago announced it would switch its support to 802.11b, or Wi-Fi, a competing wireless standard backed by Apple Computer, Dell Computer, Cisco Systems, Lucent Technologies spinoff Agere Systems and many others.

Intel on Wednesday will announce new AnyPoint Wireless II Network products based on 802.11b that let people wirelessly link their PCs and laptops so they can share a Net connection, files and computer peripherals such as printers. The products will allow laptop users to roam around a house and surf the Web.

Intel previously touted HomeRF as cheaper than 802.11b, but prices of 802.11b products have dropped considerably in the past year. Intel previously sold 802.11b products aimed at businesses and HomeRF products aimed at consumers. But Intel executives say supporting one standard will allow workers to go home and have their work laptops easily connect to a wireless home network.

Analysts said the rift between companies in the home-networking market has caused a standards war similar to the VCR technology battle that pitted VHS against Betamax in the early days of videotape machines. But analysts say Intel's support for 802.11b gives the technology the edge to win out as the standard in the home.

"Intel's name carries a lot of weight for consumers and that's significant," said Parks Associates analyst Kurt Scherf. "Industry support for 802.11b has been tremendous."

During the past few months, HomeRF has needed to show new support from companies beyond its three main backers--Motorola, Proxim and Siemens--and it hasn't happened yet, Scherf said. "They need to prove that it isn't obsolete."

Intel's AnyPoint wireless products come in two forms: a tiny wireless device that can be plugged into a desktop computer, and, for laptops, a wireless PC card. Both, available immediately, have radio transmitters and receivers built in.

Intel will ship in the coming weeks a third device, called a "gateway," which connects the wireless technology to a regular Internet connection.

Intel spokesman Tom Potts said the company's new wireless technology features software that makes it easy to install the home network. The product also features built-in security.

"We're trying to mask all the network complexity behind our software, so in most situations, the person installing it only has to answer three questions," Potts said.

Intel ranks fifth in the market for wireless networking products with 5 percent of the market, according to a survey by market analyst firm NPD Intelect. In the first five months of this year, Linksys captured 28.3 percent of the $65 million spent in wireless networking, followed by Agere, U.S. Robotics, SMC and D-Link.