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Smile, you're on Wi-Fi

The first camera that can shuttle photos and videos using the wireless standard has made its debut. The cost, however, may leave buyers waiting for prices to come down.

One of the first cameras that can shuttle photos and videos using Wi-Fi has made its debut.

IQinVision plans to sell the camera, which became available this week, to companies such as security firms that need to put video cameras in places where wires can't go, or as a way to roll in a temporary security system, according to Rick Davitt, IQinVision marketing vice president.

This product is among the first devices to combine digital videography and wireless LANs (local area networks) that use the Wi-Fi, or 802.11b, standard. Equipment maker D-Link was the first to sell such a product earlier this year.

Wi-Fi networks are in an estimated 18 million homes and offices. They create a 300-foot zone where a laptop or PDA (personal digital assistant) can roam untethered, yet still get access to the Web or other electronic devices.

Expect more digital camera makers to follow suit, analysts say, although none have publicly announced plans. The number of digital cameras has been on the rise, and its only a matter of time before a camera maker wants to add a popular new technology like Wi-Fi. Research firm NPDTechworld said a total of 1.23 million still cameras and 215,000 camcorders were sold during the first quarter of 2002, compared with 958,000 and 202,000 in the same period a year ago.

IQinVision's Wi-Fi cameras cost nearly $2,700 a piece.

Lower cost and less functional cameras using Wi-Fi meant for more mainstream users should hit the mainstream market by Christmas 2003, said Giga Information group analyst Rob Enderle.

Jupiter analyst Dylan Brooks thinks major camera manufacturers are waiting for the next generation of wireless networks that use a different standard, 802.11a, to become more mainstream and drop in price. These networks can push data through at rates of about five times faster than 802.11b, which is enough bandwidth to shuttle data-heavy videos, Brooks said.

"Right now, you get much better performance, in general, hooking up cords for that camera," Brooks said.

Davitt agrees with Brooks, but said for now, an 802.11b provides more than enough oomph for the low bandwidth needed to send a black and video image that most surveillance cameras use. Most surveillance systems use only black and white images instead of color.

But the company said it plans to soon release the software that the camera needs to upgrade and be used on an 802.11a network.