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Intel expands wireless options

The chipmaker begins selling a Wi-Fi adapter, broadening its entry into one of the more popular segments of the tech industry: wireless networking.

Intel is increasing its bet on the wireless networking market by releasing a Wi-Fi adapter that manufacturers can use to let their products connect to a network and share resources such as broadband access and printers.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip giant announced Tuesday the availability of the Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 LAN MiniPCI adapter as a standalone component for device makers. (The adapter is already a part of Intel's Centrino bundle of chips.)

The adapter is currently available in volume and costs a little more than $40 in 1,000-unit quantities, according to Intel. Pricing depends on where the customers are located--in most cases, customers are outside the United States, so varying tariffs will affect price.

The chipmaker has not publicly announced any customers, but according to spokesman Tom Potts, it's in discussion with a number of manufacturers. The most logical place for the adapter is in notebook computers, with the majority being notebooks using Centrino, Potts added. The price of the adapter when sold with other Centrino parts costs in the mid-$20 range.

"However, Intel expects this side of the business to grow to compete with some of the bigger names in this market," said Potts.

Atheros, Broadcom and Intersil are among the leading Wi-Fi chipmakers in the market. "We don't intend to be the first mover," Potts said. "This is a long race, and it's not going to be decided in the next two to three months."

Intel sees wireless networking as a key differentiator for its processors and is investing $300 million in marketing Centrino. Prices for Wi-Fi chips have been falling rapidly, which may make it tougher for companies to make healthy margins on Wi-Fi chips. Still, Centrino has been well received by many major notebook makers, giving it a good start.

The Intel PRO/Wireless 2100 LAN MiniPCI adapter is based on the 802.11b standard and can wirelessly send and receive data at speeds up to 11mbps. It includes all the packaging and software needed for making a wireless connection, such as a radio that can send and receive data over spectrum dedicated to the 802.11b wireless standard. The 802.11b standard uses the 2.4GHz radio band.

The adapter consists of Intel-developed silicon supporting the 802.11b MAC, an 802.11b baseband chip codeveloped by Intel and Symbol Technologies and an 802.11b radio chip from Philips Semiconductor. Technology from Texas Instruments is also used in the adapter.

Intel won't have a high-speed adapter until the middle of the year when it comes out with its own 802.11a/b chip. It will follow with an 802.11a/b/g chip in the second half.