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Motorola backs waning wireless standard

The company reiterates support for the HomeRF wireless technology in its cable modems, giving the home networking standard a boost after Intel recently switched to another camp.

    Motorola this week reiterated its support for the HomeRF wireless technology in its cable modems, giving the home networking standard a boost after Intel recently switched camps and backed a rival standard.

    The development is good news for Proxim, the leading proponent of the HomeRF standard, technology that wirelessly links computers and laptops together so they can swap data and share a Net connection. Besides Proxim and Motorola, companies including Compaq Computer and Siemens support HomeRF.

    Proxim, which makes HomeRF-based products and wireless networking kits, saw its stock price dive in March after Intel changed its support from HomeRF to the 802.11B wireless standard for wireless home networking equipment.

    "Given that Intel said they weren't going to support (HomeRF), a lot of people thought Motorola was going to follow suit," Yankee Group analyst Karuna Uppal said.

    Proxim faces competition from another standard, called 802.11B, or Wi-Fi, that is backed by tech giants like Intel, Lucent Technologies, Cisco Systems, 3Com and Apple Computer. Intel, wasting little time in trumpeting its new commitment to Wi-Fi, announced Tuesday that it will team with Comcast Cable Communications to make home networking products that include a broadband cable modem and wireless networking equipment. Comcast operates its own U.S. cable network.

    Both HomeRF and Wi-Fi technologies offer high-speed wireless connections to the Internet and other appliances that allow consumers to roam around the house with a laptop computer and Web surf. Some analysts say the conflict between the standards resembles the one-time standards war between video recording standards VHS and Betamax, a battle that Wi-Fi appears to be winning.

    Wi-Fi has "been marketed better and has a broader base of industry support," said Uppal, who believes the backing of key companies within the industry has helped Wi-Fi's ascent more than its technology has.

    Another advantage of Wi-Fi, according to Uppal, is that HomeRF does not have enough high-speed products on the market. Wi-Fi has data transfer rates of 11 megabits per second, about five times faster than current HomeRF technology. HomeRF supporters say they will release new products by the end of summer that reach the same speed as Wi-Fi.

    Yet the winner may gain a victory that crimps the market. Some industry observers say the competing technologies will only manage to confuse consumers when they shop for home networking devices for the first time.

    But Uppal believes that the fight will be over before the majority of consumers feel the urge to wire their home. This is good for the industry, Uppal said, because consumers just want to spend money on products that work and do not care as much about how they work.

    News.com's Wylie Wong contributed to this report.