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Belkin Rolls Out 802.11g Products

Belkin reported today it will start shipping an 802.11g wireless home networking devices later this month.

The Belkin 54g family of products features a cable/DSL gateway router, $149 estimated street price; wireless access point, $139 estimated street price; wireless notebook card, $79 estimated street price; and a wireless desktop card, $79 estimated street price.

Eva Chen, Belkin’s product manager, said the company chose the 2.4GHz 802.11g standard over the 802.11a specification, which delivers the same 54Mbps as 802.11g but uses the 5GHz band, because it is fully backward compatible with the large installed base of 802.11b networks. Another plus is 802.11g has a slightly better range, she said. The 802.11g specification is not expected to be ratified by the IEEE standards committee until May, but Belkin does not expect any changes to be added between the product launch and then that cannot be fixed by a firmware download.

Belkin expects 802.11g to be quickly accepted by consumers with the products gaining 20 percent of the wireless networking market by the end of 2003. This fast adoption could cause two potential problems. While 802.11g and 802.11b products can work together on the same network, the mere presence of an 802.11b device on the network causes the entire network’s data rate to plunge down to the 802.11b’s 11MBps rate. To avoid this situation Belkin’s 54g products have a feature called 54g Turbo Mode. This forces the system to only recognize the 54g products on the network thus allowing them to operate at full speed, Chen said.

This feature will become significant to users when separate 802.11b and 802.11g networks operate in close proximity, such as an office or store environment.

The concern caused by higher product adoption rates is more technological novices will decide to add a wireless network. This situation has already helped lead to a 20 percent return rate for wireless networking products, Chen said. Of these only 2 percent were caused by product defects; the remainder had to due with customer frustration over dealing with such complicated products.

To alleviate this Belkin has developed a new fully automated installation wizard that detects what devices are on the system and then properly configures the PC and network.

With the introduction of the 54g-product line, Belkin will make available a new parental control service. The service costs $19.95 per month and has a simple set up wizard, Chen said. This was essential, she said, because in many households the technologically savvy children tend to act as a family’s network administrator. By enabling parents to figure out and control the filter it guarantees that the proper material is banned from the network.

As an introductory offer the company is offering six months of free service.

Belkin will show several other new products at CES this week, including a Bluetooth access point and two USB sharing switches. The Bluetooth access point will ship in February with a $149 estimated street price. It has two USB ports that so any USB connected device can operate over a Bluetooth network.

The USB sharing switches will ship in January. The two-port model will have a $29 estimated street price and the four-port version will cost an additional $20.