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Faster Wi-Fi standard gets nod

A wireless standard five times faster than Wi-Fi passes the first of several votes needed for approval from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.

A new wireless standard five times faster than Wi-Fi got an important approval Monday.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) said Monday that a draft of the standard, 802.11g, passed the first of several votes needed before it's ultimately approved. The IEEE said it intends to finalize the 802.11g standard by May 2003.

The 802.11g standard is part of the thicket of wireless networking standards. The most popular is Wi-Fi, or 802.11b, which has been installed in 15 million to 18 million homes and offices worldwide. The networks provide wireless Internet access within a radius of about 300 feet of an access point.

The 802.11g network is much faster, although it operates in the same radio frequency as Wi-Fi. Equipment using 802.11g can download files or access the Web at 54 megabits per second, compared with Wi-Fi's rate of 11 megabits per second. It is also more secure than Wi-Fi and is compatible with existing Wi-Fi networks, meaning customers could use an 802.11g card to access a Wi-Fi access point.

Although 802.11g hasn't been officially approved by the IEEE, equipment makers could announce 802.11g products as early as next month, according to Navin Sabharwal, a wireless networking analyst at ABI Research.

Texas Instrument wouldn't begin producing 802.11g chips until January, given the history of last-minute changes as standards finalize, according to spokeswoman Marisa Speziale.

Cahners In-Stat analyst Alan Nogee said 802.11g equipment makers are still having difficulties making a single modem for a laptop to work with both Wi-Fi and 802.11g networks. The two networks shape their signals differently, Nogee says, making it difficult for one modem to handle.

"It's moving along; (the standard) is probably on track for May," he said.

Equipment based on a third standard, 802.11a, has already debuted. While 802.11a equipment is considered more secure and operates in different radio frequency than Wi-Fi to reduce interference, it is not compatible with Wi-Fi or upcoming 802.11g products.

Most equipment makers are hesitant to sell access points that offer just an 802.11a network, which are more expensive than notoriously inexpensive 802.11b equipment. Instead, equipment makers seem to be producing combination devices, which simultaneously offer both 802.11a and an 802.11b networks.