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Wireless group tentatively OKs speed boost

Technology companies tentatively approve a new standard called 802.11g that reaches data transfer rates of 54 megabits per second--five times faster than the current standard.

An industry standards group has tentatively approved new technology that will speed wireless Internet connections in homes, businesses and public places.

Technology companies, through an industry standards group called the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), on Thursday tentatively approved a new standard called 802.11g that reaches data transfer rates of 54 megabits per second (mbps). The new standard is five times faster and compatible with wireless networking kits that use the popular 802.11b standard that is in use today.

The 802.11b networking kits, built by the likes of Cisco Systems, 3Com, Proxim, Intel and Agere Systems, allow people to wirelessly connect their laptops together, so they can roam around the house or office and still surf the Web. The technology has become popular in the past few years, spreading to coffee shops, airports and hotels.

The standards organization is expected to approve the standard in a final vote next year, said John Allen, a spokesman for chipmaker Intersil.

The 802.11g standard has stirred controversy among technology companies as they have bickered over 802.11b's successor. The 802.11b standard is limited to data transfer rates of 11 mbps. Some tech companies at this week's Comdex show released new speedier wireless networking products that are based on the 802.11a standard, which matches the same speed of the proposed 802.11g standard. The faster 54 mbps rate allows for audio and video streaming and the swapping of big files.

Because of 802.11a's release, some tech executives felt the new 802.11g standard was not needed. They also fear that a third standard would confuse and frustrate consumers if they buy wireless networking products that are not compatible with each other.

The existing 802.11b standard and proposed 802.11g standard are compatible because they reside in the crowded 2.4GHz frequency, the same portion of the airwaves that microwave ovens and cordless phones operate in. The 802.11a standard has less interference because it operates in the uncrowded 5Ghz frequency. However, 802.11a is not compatible with 802.11b.

Gartner analyst Todd Kort says the Institute of IEEE's tentative approval of the 802.11g standard is a definite boost for wireless networking--and a step toward higher wireless Internet speeds.

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Supporters of the new 802.11g standard said the IEEE built the standard to allow each standard to co-exist with each other.

The key element in the new standard is that the 802.11g technology is built the same way as the 802.11a technology, said Bill Carney, Texas Instruments' director of business development. That way, network equipment companies such as Intel, Cisco and 3Com could build combination wireless PC cards that support all three standards: 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11a.

While the networking companies may build wireless technology that supports only one standard, creating technology that supports all three technologies could allay concerns of incompatibilities, Intersil's Allen said.

"This makes logical sense. 802.11g can make the bridge between the existing wireless technology," Allen said.

The 802.11g standard has been in the works for about a year, and the tech companies at the IEEE meetings this week considered scrapping the new standard because the effort has been so slow going, Carney said.

The IEEE had been considering competing proposals by Intersil and Texas Instruments for the 802.11g standard. After heavy debate, the IEEE voted Thursday on a technology that took a bit from both proposals, Carney said.