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New wireless hardware gets FCC nod

Cisco, Intersil and others get the green light for equipment based on the 802.11a wireless standard. Will it challenge Wi-Fi?

Wireless networking equipment from Cisco Systems, Intersil and D-Link based on the 802.11a wireless standard received federal approval this week to be sold in the United States.

Products using the 802.11a standard are expected to hit the market this year, with more products expected in 2003.

Heralded as the next generation of wireless networking, the 802.11a standard, when used in products, can create wireless networking zones of up to 1,000 feet from a node, and send information five times faster than earlier versions of wireless networking products.

The new equipment is expected to provide little challenge, at first, to popular Wi-Fi networks, based on a standard known as 802.11b. According to recent industry information, there are 15 million to 18 million homes and offices worldwide that use Wi-Fi networks.

One reason that Wi-Fi may continue to dominate the wireless landscape is that the new standard isn't backward compatible. This means a Web surfer with a 802.11a wireless card couldn't tap into a network made up of 802.11b equipment, and vice versa. What's more, 802.11a equipment is more expensive; for example, an access point--a vital element in a wireless network--can cost upwards of $1,000.

Cisco's Aironet 1200 access point, introduced in April, was one among a handful of products to win Federal Communications Commission approval. The access point can be used to create networks based on 802.11a or 802.11b. A Cisco spokesman had no immediate comment on the news.

Wireless networking maker D-Link also won approval for a wireless local area card that can be embedded into electronic devices, such as laptops. The device is based on chips from Atheros Communications.

Chipmaker Intersil also won permission from the FCC to sell an 802.11a modem about the size of a credit card that can be installed in laptops, according to FCC records. An Intersil spokesman could not be reached Wednesday for comment.