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Wi-Fi To Merge PC/CE Networks

Wireless home networking technology will quickly progress to the next level in 2005 as company after company rolls out what is being dubbed pre-802.11n products in preparation for the expected explosion in wireless multimedia products.

Despite the fact that the 802.11n specification is not expected to be ratified for at least two years, companies like Belkin and Netgear have already released products that incorporate the 802.11n components, like Multiple In, Multiple Out (MIMO) data streams, and this trend will accelerate during the upcoming year.

“We expect to see a lot more pre-802.11n product come out or devices that support MIMO,” said Jonathon Bettino, Belkin’s networking product manager.

The 802.11n specification differs from the other varieties now being sold by specializing in multimedia, not data streaming. It has a theoretical throughput speed of 100MB per second, the level need to stream video.

The pathway pre-802.11n products will follow in one sense is similar to what happened with 802.11a/g two years ago. Most companies released products before the specifications finalization. They then offered firmware patch downloads to bring these early products up to code. However, Deming did not know if the pre-n products will be able to be upgraded because the final 802.11n is so far from complete.

The pre-n devices will be backward-compatible with the current crop of 802.11a/g products.

The other expected trend for 2005 is the emergence of combo 802.11a/g wireless equipment. By combining these two 54MB-per-second technologies, with 802.11g using the 2.4GHz band and 802.11a on 5GHz, the end user has the backbone for a data network, that would use 802.11g, and multimedia on the 802.11a side.

802.11a/g equipment is needed to take advantage of what could be the first large wave of wireless-ready CE equipment that is expected in 2005.

Bettino expects CE vendors to start installing 802.11a capability in their devices so they can communicate with the load of Microsoft Windows Media Center devices coming onto the market.

Vivek Pathela, Netgear’s senior director of product marketing — consumer products, sees a widespread inclusion of Wi-Fi capabilities by CE vendors in 2005 along with hybrid Wi-Fi/powerline networking and Wi-Fi/IWB devices.

“In 2004 about 150,000 wireless media adapters were sold to customers in the U.S., so the market was relatively small,” Pathela said, “We anticipate that will increase significantly in 2005 to enable existing CE devices. New CE devices will emerge that include networking capabilities, bringing more awareness to customers on the value of such capabilities, and the increase on the sales of media adapters that connect existing analog CE stereos, TVs and home theater systems to the home network and the Internet.”

The 802.11a/g devices will not push the 802.11g products that now dominate the market out to pasture, said Bettino, because the price delta for the 802.11a/g chipsets is dramatically higher then for 802.11g. This could happen two years down the road, he added.

Bettino said this is different then what happened in 2004 when 802.11g all but eliminated 802.11b products from the market because 802.11g chipset prices are almost in line with the slower and older 802.11b chipsets.

Pathela agreed that 802.11b has all but been displaced in the market.

“802.11b is definitely on its way out. We are even seeing that enhanced 802.11g, called ”Super G” by Netgear, has been widely adopted now, and it is an indication that the market is looking for wireless that is providing better range and faster speeds.”