Linksys and Belkin hopped onto the pre-802.11n bandwagon last month, introducing products expected to be on store shelves in May and June, respectively.
Belkin introduced four products on May 1, while Linksys rolled out two on April 24. The 802.11n specification is still in the early stages of ratification by the IEEE, but companies feel that there is a pent-up demand for higher speed wireless networking that will offset consumer concerns about whether the pre-11n products now being released can be upgraded. Most companies issuing pre-11n products believe that the current specification being used will not change that much between now and when the spec is finalized sometime in 2007. This should mean the current crop of products will be upgraded with just a downloadable firmware patch.
Jonathon Bettino, Belkin's networking product manager, said with every company unveiling similar products the challenge will be for a company to differentiate itself on a level other than speeds and feeds.
“Belkin will focus on usability,” he said.
The company has reorganized its packaging and how it places the products in the box to make it as simple as possible for the end user to install the device. Each component is wrapped separately and labeled, and the router has corresponding labels indicating where the various wires should be attached. The software breaks that aspect of the installation into a series of six-step tasks, Bettino said.
The router itself also helps with a group of icons that show which parts of the network are functioning. This gives the end user an idea where to start looking if there is a networking problem.
Belkin's pre-11n line will start shipping on June 15 and consists of the N1 wireless router, $179 suggested retail price; N1 notebook card, $129, N1 wireless desktop card, $139; and the N1 USB wireless 2.0 card, shipping in October for $139. Bettino said street prices for these products are likely to be lower but have not yet been set.
The N1 wireless desktop card is something new for Belkin. In an effort to limit desktop clutter, the router installs into a PC's PCI Express slot. The antenna is attached via a wire.
Linksys' two SKU entries consist of the Wireless-N broadband router and the Wireless-N notebook adapter. Both are available through BestBuy.com with suggested retail prices of $149 and $119, respectively.