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Linksys Networks Into CE Products

From a new CE-based industrial design to jumping into the car and home audio markets, Linksys is going all out to show that it is more than just a home networking company.

Victor Tsao, Linksys’ president and CEO, said the company will start shipping an 80211.g-based MP3 player for the car during the second quarter and a wireless home MP3 player is expected to follow later this year. As part of the company’s efforts to overhaul its image, it is in the process of dumping its long-standing blue and black industrial design in favor of a brushed aluminum and black color scheme. Even with all these items on its plate the company is not holding back on product development. It has brought out a slew of 802.11g products and will start mass producing 802.11g/a devices next month, Tsao said.

The car-based MP3 player is in the final stages of design. It will use either a hard drive or flash memory as a storage medium, which has not been decided, and will fit in a car trunk like a CD changer. The expected suggested retail is between $149 and $199. The player will work in a home’s 802.11 wireless network when it pulls within range and the user will download music to it through a PC.

The wireless home MP3 player’s suggested retail will range between $149 to $199 and will play streaming-Internet radio and be able to download music through services such as PressPlay. It will not need to operate through a PC, but will connect directly to the Web through the wireless access point, Tsao said.

Another mid-year product will be the Linksys Wireless Media Adapter. This will connect to a TV or stereo through an RCA jack and wirelessly to a PC to allow music and photos to be played on the CE devices. A later version of the Adapter will stream video, Tsao said, although there are several issues, such as digital rights, that must be solved prior to its release. An Ethernet connection is also available.

Linksys’ product roadmap focuses around the 802.11g specification, primarily due to the retail success its first “g” products enjoyed.

Tsao said the company shipped 100,000 802.11 access points, routers, PCI and PC cards in the three weeks following their introduction on Dec. 24. He credited the small $10 price difference between the older, slower 802.11b products and the 54MBps 802.11g and its backward compatibility for this initial success. The advent of 802.11g product will further drive down 802.11b prices. Within several months these will cost about 30 percent less than “g” models. These price changes, along with new products, are expected to drive unit shipments to the 6-million mark in 2003, Tsao said, or twice what shipped in 2002.

Rolling out a raft of 802.11g products prior to the specification being finalized as an industry standard is not a concern and early 802.11g buyers will not be out of date if any changes occur before the specification is settled.

“We conform to today’s draft of the spec. The hardware part is already set and if the firmware were to be changed we can fix that with a patch,” he said.

The next area for Linksys is 802.11g/a. Starting in just over a month these will be available for the enterprise market, with consumer models coming out before the end of the year. A $190 suggested retail is expected.