Intel threatens to derail fast Wi-Fi standard

Intel threatens to derail fast Wi-Fi standard

Intel has caused a delay in the arrival of high-speed wireless LANs by forming a new faction in the standards process, according to industry observers.

The chip giant, along with Broadcom, Atheros and Marvell together control the bulk of the market for Wi-Fi chipsets, and have formed a new camp lobbying for the final shape of the 802.11n standard. The standard hopes to quadruple Wi-Fi speeds in equipment backward-compatible with existing kit.

In August, the existing 802.11n factions had reached a compromise and were working together on a merged proposal. That proposal is expected to arrive next week, and to be available for a vote in November. Intel had backed the TGnSynch proposal to form the basis for the 802.11n standard.

However, Intel and its cohorts have now opted to form a new group with the aim of presenting a rival fast Wi-Fi proposal to the IEEE in November. The group excludes Airgo, which pioneered and leads the market in MIMO (Multiple In Multiple Out) antenna technology, expected to form the basis of the compromise 802.11n proposal.

The new Intel-led group could throw 802.11n into fresh chaos, according to a new market review from ABI Research. "It was hoped that by now the two industry groups, WWiSE and TGn Sync, would have thrashed out a single proposal," said Philip Solis, semiconductor analyst with ABI, in a statement.

It appears that the breakaway companies will go to great lengths to stop Airgo's technology from forming the basis of 802.11n and giving the company a head start on the competition, ABI said. "If these companies, which have been slower bringing spatial multi-plexing to market, can change the standard proposal drastically, Airgo would be forced to a fundamental redesign," stated analyst Sam Lucero.

Airgo already sells MIMO-based wireless LAN gear that it claims can match Ethernet speeds. But enterprises will be reluctant to adopt the technology until it's standardized, according to Linley Group analyst Bob Wheeler. "They will not adopt it until it's an industry standard, and that won't happen until 2007," he said in an interview earlier this week.

Intel has a history of aggressive lobbying where it comes to wireless standards, and usually gets its way. In the development of Ultra Wide Band (UWB), the company has backed the MBOA Alliance against the UWB Forum and the new CWave Alliance, contributing to an UWB deadlock.

Intel's aggressive lobbying for 802.16e -- the standard that will be the basis for mobile WiMax -- has helped cripple the rival standard 802.20, which counts Flarion and ArrayComm among its supporters.

Some of the manufacturers now making equipment for the current, fixed version of WiMax have even taken issue with Intel's focus on the mobile upgrade, saying it encourages buyers to ignore current gear.

Intel has also pushed for an advantage against the manufacturers of current Wi-Fi hardware, recently announcing it join with Cisco in building proprietary Wi-Fi extensions into upcoming Centrino laptops.

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