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Is TI's "turbo Wi-Fi" losing steam?

Texas Instruments' turbo Wi-Fi technology makes for the speediest wireless networks around. But analysts think it may have only a short shelf life.

Texas Instruments' "turbo Wi-Fi" technology may be downshifting out of the wireless networking fast lane, analysts say.

Turbo Wi-Fi, also known as 802.11b+, is a networking technology that's included in the family of wireless networking silicon chips the company unveiled Wednesday. The technology is used in gear from wireless equipment makers such as Buffalo Technology, Linksys and D-Link Systems. The equipment costs the same as other Wi-Fi networks but downloads files at double the rate.

In-Stat/MDR researchers have said that by 2005, more than 55 million Wi-Fi-based wireless networks will be in homes and offices.

TI and other Wi-Fi equipment makers debuted turbo Wi-Fi in chipsets and hardware beginning in March. The gear won an audience, especially because it didn't cost anything extra. But analysts believe turbo Wi-Fi will lose its appeal as soon as December, with the expected debut of products using the 802.11g standard, which is two times faster than turbo Wi-Fi equipment.

"TI has already put a lot of investment and effort into it, so when 802.11g got decided, it was already too late to stop," said Navin Sabharwal, a wireless analyst at Allied Business Research.

Cahners In-Stat wireless analyst Allen Nogee agreed, adding that he thinks turbo Wi-Fi "will disappear soon."

The technique TI uses to boost turbo Wi-Fi's speed is known as PBCC (Packet Binary Convolutional Coding). TI owns the technology and tried to make it part of the 802.11g wireless networking standard last year, but eventually lost out.

PBCC is one way for wireless networks to attach digital information to radio waves. In the 802.11g standards battle, PBCC eventually lost ground to OFDM, or Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing, as the modem of choice.

TI spokeswoman Marisa Speziale said there is still some life left in turbo Wi-Fi. "Yes (802.11g) is coming, but we also see that (it) is not going to be perfect out of the gate," she said. "It'll take six months or a year to work out the kinks and bugs."

D-Link Marketing Vice President Bradley Morse said the cost of 802.11b+ equipment has dropped "to where the mass market can grab it without really having to make a decision."

A D-Link 802.11B+ access point costs $149 and a laptop modem card is $80, Morse said. Those prices don't include the usual discounts offered by electronics stores, he said.

By comparison, the average selling price for an 802.1b access point for homes is $103 while an 802.11b modem card costs $66, according to Synergy Research Group.

"There is a clear embrace from (people) that buy it from electronic stores," Morse said. "They are putting it into their homes."

Separately, TI on Wednesday unveiled chips that create a single access point, as well as a modem that can interact with networks powered by the standards 802.11a, 802.11g and turbo Wi-Fi.