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Wi-Fi makers follow Cisco's lead

Two companies unveil wireless networking products after Cisco's introduction of similar devices last month. The good news: It should mean lower prices for Wi-Fi fans.

Two Wi-Fi makers unveiled new products Tuesday, meeting analysts' hopes that Cisco Systems' introduction of similar wireless networking devices last month would lead to an avalanche of competitive products.

Nearly all wireless networks worldwide use a standard known as 802.11b, which can transfer information at a speed of about 5 megabits per second. Last month, Cisco unveiled wireless networking equipment that uses a faster standard called 802.11a, or Wi-Fi5. The equipment transfers data up to five times faster than 802.11b. While it is faster, it has not been backward-compatible with 802.11b.

On Tuesday, Proxim introduced a new line of 802.11a products, including a modem that will be built into personal computers that costs $280 and will be available in North America, nine European countries, Australia and New Zealand. Proxim's new 802.11a device is a card containing an antenna and modem that can slide into a personal computer.

Agere Systems on Tuesday began selling an 802.11a radio that slips into access points, which then shower an area of about 300 feet with Internet access. An access point is a vital part of any wireless local area network (LAN).

Analysts said Tuesday's announcements of products to rival Cisco's would likely drop the price of all 802.11a products in general, which are generally twice as expensive as the 802.11b devices. Wireless analyst Alan Nogee of Cahners In-Stat said the cost of integrated circuits needed to build these devices is still high.

The reason: "There's just one guy making them," he said. So far, only chipmaker Atheros Communications has an 802.11a chip to sell to makers of wireless networking products. Another chipmaker, Intersil, announced that its own 802.11a chipsets will soon be available, Nogee said.

"We're getting more choices now," he said. "In many situations that's a good thing. Having more cards will drop the price, but we really have to wait for new chips."

Cisco representatives refused to comment.