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Intel leads Wi-Fi chipmakers in new forum

Intel and others will announce a new industry forum on Monday to accelerate the new, faster Wi-Fi standard, sources say.

Leading Wi-Fi chip manufacturers announced a new industry forum on Monday to help accelerate efforts to create a new, faster Wi-Fi standard.

Twenty-seven Wi-Fi companies, led by chipmakers Intel, Broadcom, Marvel and Atheros, announced they were joining forces in a group called the Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC) to accelerate the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers' work on a draft of the new 802.11n standard. The vendors plan to submit a new proposal to the IEEE's working group for consideration. The group plans to make its specifications available to all silicon suppliers and system vendors who join the organization.

In addition to the chipmakers, several Wi-Fi equipment players have joined the forum, including Cisco Systems, Cisco's Linksys, D-Link, Netgear, and Symbol Technologies. A few consumer electronics makers, such as Apple, Sanyo, and Sony, have also joined.

The goal of the forum is to help accelerate the IEEE process, which has been mired in political infighting between two different groups. The forum is likely to further aggravate this split in the technology community.

"Intel is committed to advancing the adoption of standards, and participation in the Enhanced Wireless Consortium is one way we hope to accelerate the adoption of a final IEEE 802.11n standard," Jim Johnson, vice president and general manager of Intel's Wireless Networking Group, said in a statement. "By joining with numerous other industry players, we hope to speed ratification of the standard as well as jointly develop a common guideline to deliver interoperable solutions in the interim."

The new standard will likely be based on a technology called multiple-input/multiple-output, or MIMO, which could boost throughput on wireless LANs to more than 300 megabits per second. The EWC says its proposal will raise speeds up to 600mbps. The 802.11a and 11g standards used today provide throughput between 20mbps and 24mbps.

MIMO works by allowing two or more distinct signals to be transmitted over the same 802.11 radio channel at the same time with no interference. This allows more data to be sent over the available radio spectrum than is possible with standard transmissions today.

For the past several months, the standards effort has been bitterly divided into two main camps. On one side is a group calling itself the Task Group 'n' synchronization, or TGn Sync. It is supported by Intel, Atheros Communications, Nortel, Samsung, Sony, Qualcomm, Philips and Panasonic. The other side is World-Wide Spectrum Efficiency, or WWiSE. This group is led by Airgo Networks, which is currently the only company shipping chips that use MIMO technology, along with Broadcom, Motorola, Nokia, France Telecom, Texas Instruments and NTT.

Earlier this year, the two groups came to a deadlock after the TGn Sync proposal failed to get the necessary votes to push it forward in the process. Since then, members of the two groups have been working to develop a new joint proposal.

An initial draft of the new proposal is expected to be introduced at the IEEE meeting in November, with a more detailed draft scheduled for the January meeting. If all goes well, the new standard would be ratified in early 2007.

CNET's Michael Singer and Dawn Kawamoto contributed to this report.