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Wireless Net products built for speed

Leading networking companies plan to unveil new technology for people to communicate wirelessly in their homes and workplaces. The key word: faster.

LAS VEGAS--Reflecting the growing demand for Net connections anywhere, some of the leading networking companies plan to unveil new technology for people to communicate wirelessly in their homes and workplaces.

At Comdex Fall 2001 on Monday, Intel will release new, faster wireless networking kits, technology that allows the wireless linking of laptops and computers so people can share the same Internet connection and peripherals such as printers.

The new technology offers speeds that are five times faster than previous technology based on the 802.11b wireless standard. While 802.11b limits data-transfer rates to 11 megabits per second (mbps), the new technology, based on the 802.11a standard, reaches 54 mbps. The faster rates will improve the quality of streaming audio and video and provide the extra bandwidth needed for the swapping of large files.

Proxim, which has already shipped 802.11a wireless products for businesses, will announce that the faster wireless technology for consumers will debut for the Windows operating system in December. Proxim will release 802.11a networking kits for Apple Computer users in the 2002 first quarter.

Cisco Systems Chief Executive John Chambers will also demonstrate his company's new 802.11a wireless networking kits during his keynote speech Monday morning, but Cisco executives declined to say when the products will be available. 3Com, however, will announce that its 802.11a wireless products for businesses will ship in mid-2002.

The networking companies, along with Lucent Technologies spinoff Agere Systems and others, compete in the emerging wireless networking market that is expected to grow from $1.2 billion in revenue last year to $4.6 billion by 2005, according to a study by analyst firm MDR/Instat.

A wireless connection will allow workers to take their notebook computers into a conference room to take notes during meetings. Analysts also expect the technology to take off in the home as more consumers get high-speed Internet access and want to network their PCs together, so they can share the Net access among multiple PCs.

The standards are not compatible, but technology company executives believe they can coexist. The 802.11b standard has gained an early foothold in businesses, airports, hotels and homes, but executives say they expect to create technology in the future that will allow computer users to toggle back and forth between wireless standards.

Analyst firm IDC believes 802.11b will remain the more popular standard until 802.11a takes over the market share lead in 2005.

The difference between the two wireless standards is that 802.11b works in the crowded 2.4GHz frequency, the same portion of the airwaves where microwave ovens and some cordless phones operate. The 802.11a standard operates in the uncrowded 5GHz frequency, where interference is less of a problem.

Because 802.11a will cost more, executives from Intel, Cisco and 3Com say they are targeting the corporate and education markets with their 802.11a products, but consumers who want and need the faster speeds can also purchase the products.

But Proxim executives, who are targeting both businesses and consumers, believe consumers who want cutting-edge technology will buy the 802.11a products.

"We do think early adopters in the home will want 802.11a for large file transfers and distributing video" throughout the house, said Ken Haase, Proxim's product marketing director.

Proxim will charge about $150 for wireless PC cards that will have radio transmitters and receivers built in, and about $429 for an access point that connects the wireless technology to an Internet connection. Intel's prices for its 802.11a products are similar.

"The pricing is great for the small-business owner," Haase said. "The 802.11a PC card is about 25 percent above the 802.11b card, and the access point is a little higher, but not out of the mass market."

In other wireless and home networking news, Cisco announced new security features for its existing Aironet wireless networking kits based on 802.11b.

New wireless security technology from Cisco can detect packets of data that have been modified by hackers. The networking giant also announced blueprints for people to create secure wireless networks, including the use of virtual private networks (VPN), software that allows a secure connection to a corporate network, as well as support for a new wireless security standard called 802.1x.

With the new standard, people with laptops get a different password every time they connect to a wireless network, making the connections secure. In addition, that same password can be used across multiple access points throughout the workplace.

Cisco said Fairmont Hotels & Resorts will install wireless networking technology in its hotels. Cisco also partnered with IBM, whose consulting arm will use Cisco's equipment to build wireless networks for customers.

Among other home-networking developments:

• Linksys and Nortel Networks spinoff NetGear will demonstrate the new powerline home networking technology, which allows PC users to network their computers via electrical outlets in the home so they can share a Net connection.

• Linksys will also show off new wireless networking technology to complement its 802.11b networking kits. The company will release new wireless technology that will allow personal digital assistants and printers to connect to a wireless network.

• The Home Phoneline Networking Alliance is announcing it has begun work on new technology that will allow people to network their home PCs together via regular phone lines in the home; the speeds will reach up to 100 mbps. The consortium of companies, including AT&T Wireless Services, Compaq Computer, HP, Intel and Motorola, said the existing standard, which reaches 10 mbps, now supports phone calls over the Internet.