FCC wireless ruling heats up competition

In a move opposed by 3Com, Apple and others, the FCC rules that Intel, Motorola, Proxim and additional companies that support the HomeRF wireless standard can quadruple the speed of their wireless technology.

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A Federal Communications Commission decision today could spark a standards war on wireless technology for the home.

The FCC ruled that Intel, Motorola, Proxim and other technology companies that support a wireless standard called HomeRF can quadruple the speed of their wireless technology.

All of these companies build networking kits that allow consumers to wirelessly link their home computers together and share a single Internet connection. The technology also allows laptop owners to work untethered around the house.

But the request was opposed by 3Com, Apple Computer, Lucent Technologies and others that build similar wireless technology but support a different wireless standard, called 802.11B, or "Wi-Fi."

HomeRF technology currently runs at 2 megabits per second (mbps), while Wi-Fi technology runs at 11 mbps. With the FCC's decision today, companies that support HomeRF can build technology that can run as fast as Wi-Fi products.

The rule change will "facilitate development of new high-speed data devices for business and consumer applications such as transmission of CD-quality audio and video streams from home PCs to portable devices," FCC Chairman William Kennard said in a statement today.

While the slower speed is sufficient for most consumers, the faster speed will allow people to connect more than five PCs, transfer large files or graphics, and distribute video and audio across a home network.

"We commend the FCC for taking this important step to promote competition on a level playing field," Proxim chief executive David King said in a statement.

see related story: Congressmen press for 3G wireless Some analysts believe HomeRF's future hinged on the decision. Now that both sides can build products with equal speeds, they can fairly square off and fight for market share, sparking a standards war that could be akin to the VHS and Beta standards war when videocassette recorders were introduced, analysts said.

At stake is a piece of the emerging home networking market that is expected to grow from $600 million in 2000 to more than $5.7 billion by 2004, according to a recent study by Cahners In-Stat Group.

The Wi-Fi supporters had argued that HomeRF's proposal would interfere with their technology. HomeRF supporters disputed those claims.