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Intel postpones Wi-Fi chip

The semiconductor giant delays its first Wi-Fi chip to clean up some engineering issues and clear a few more regulatory hurdles.

Intel is delaying its first Wi-Fi chip so the company can clean up some engineering issues and clear a few more regulatory hurdles.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chipmaker originally intended to come out with a dual-band 802.11(a)(b) chip at the same time it released Banias, a new chip specifically designed for notebooks, and Calexico, a module for containing 802.11 or Wi-Fi chips and other components.

Banias and notebooks containing it will still come out in the first half of 2003, said an Intel representative, but the first notebooks will include a Calexico module containing an 802.11(b) chip from Philips. Intel's dual-band chip will come out later in the first half of 2003.

"There are some engineering issues and some regulatory issues," said the representative. Unlike microprocessors or chipsets, Wi-Fi chips are subject to international regulatory bodies because they are essentially radios that use public spectrums.

The delay is a temporary glitch in Intel's plan to move into wireless chips. The company currently sells wireless networking equipment, but the products contain chips from other companies. The initial 802.11(b)-only version of Calexico, for instance, will come with an 802.11(b) chip from Philips, although it will also contain a baseband chip co-designed by Symbol and Intel.

Intel was planning on using the first wave of Banias notebooks to ease its initial entry into this market. Intel is qualifying, or extensively testing, Banias with its own 802.11(a)(b) chip. Banias and Calexico will also be sold together. These actions effectively make it easier for PC makers to adopt Intel's communications silicon over chips from rival suppliers.

Although Intel will still market its forthcoming 802.11(a)(b) chips with Banias, the delay gives rivals extra time to convince PC makers to use their chips instead.

Sources say Banias will appear in the first quarter and come out at speeds ranging from 1.3GHz to 1.6GHz and contain a 1MB cache, larger than the cache found on existing Intel notebook chips. The chip, which uses far less energy than standard notebook chips from Intel, will enable notebooks to run about six hours on a battery charge, Intel executives said.

Although the chip was originally targeted to the thin and light subsegment of the notebook market, it will likely become Intel's predominant offering for notebooks by the end of 2003.