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Wireless to get faster, more secure

Atheros Communications begins shipping the first silicon chip that uses a new wireless networking standard known as 802.11g.

Atheros Communications on Monday began shipping the first silicon chip that uses a new wireless networking standard known as 802.11g.

802.11g is a faster and more secure version of the more familiar wireless networking equipment used in a growing number of homes and offices. But the 802.11g is still in draft form, with a few questions remaining about what technologies to use. The standard itself won't be ratified until at least midyear.

Atheros chose to ship the chips now to gain a competitive advantage. An Atheros representative said the company also made the chips easy to upgrade in case the ratified standard is significantly different. The upgrades will be done free of charge, the representative said.

"We want to make it very clear: (802.11g) is not done," said Atheros Chief Executive Rich Redelfs. "What we've essentially done is take the part of 'G' that we think is stable."

The release heats up the wireless networking standards battle. Nearly all wireless networks, which let people connect computers and other electronic devices without using wires, use the 802.11b standard.

802.11b transmits its signals in a crowded spectrum shared by transmissions from cordless phones and the growing number of Bluetooth products. Despite its shortcomings--which include porous security against hackers--Cisco Systems, Proxim and other wireless networking gear makers have enjoyed nearly eight straight quarters of double-digit growth in sales of 802.11b products.

Atheros was the first chipmaker to begin shipping silicon using the 802.11a standard, another approved wireless networking standard. These networks can ferry information at speeds five times faster than networks using 802.11b. 802.11a also broadcasts its signal over more channels than 802.11b networks. As a result, there is less interference because there are more channels to send information through.

However, one analyst said 802.11a is still a miniscule piece of the market, partly because manufacturers are having a hard time building the equipment because of the complexities of the new technology.

"It's a hard spectrum to get to. It uses a pretty hard technology to implement," said Aaron Vance, a wireless local area network analyst for Synergy Research Group in Phoenix.

Also, 802.11a equipment won't work with 802.11b networks, meaning businesses or homes must tear down the old networks to use 802.11a, he said.

The Atheros chips containing 802.11g began shipping Monday to gear makers including Intel, Sony and Proxim.

802.11g has all the speed 802.11a, but can also work with existing 802.11b networks, Vance said. However, 802.11g operates on only three channels compared to 802.11a, which runs on 13 channels.

Most major manufacturers intend to make 802.11g equipment. Cisco said it would be releasing its version sometime next year.