D-Link Systems has become the latest vendor to announce wireless network products supporting the 802.11a standard -- a name that might wrongly imply it is a predecessor. But this newer, faster and more powerful spec succeeds 802.11b, and is growing a selection of support products.
Now that IEEE's 802.11b is becoming the accepted standard for wireless networking, products based on the 802.11a standard are only starting to appear. D-Link is among the first vendors to announce 802.11a products with its D-LinkAir Pro line of high-end networking hardware (Proxim and Intel are among the others). You can use these gadgets to create a faster and more powerful wireless network, but the price is steep.
D-Link plans to release three D-LinkAir Pro products in the first quarter of 2001. Two of them are adapter cards. For desktop PCI (peripheral component interconnect) slots, there's the DWL-A520 (carrying a suggested retail price of $US219), while notebook users can plug in the PC Card DWL-A650, priced at $169.
The other item, the $439 DWL-5000AP 802.11a, doesn't plug into a PC. It serves as an access point, boosting the signal to allow you to set computers farther apart. It's also a wireless/Ethernet bridge, tying your 802.11a network into a wired one. If you connect the 5000AP to a DSL (digital subscriber line) or cable modem, one computer will have Internet access. If you connect it to an Internet router or gateway and connect that to a DSL or cable modem, all of your networked computers will have Internet access.
A versus B
So just how fast is the 802.11a standard? Its official maximum speed is 54Mbps. D-Link claims to have doubled that, with data rates up to 100Mbps. However, a D-Link spokesperson acknowledges that actual throughput won't get above 72Mbps even under ideal conditions (factors such as distance and the environment affect performance).
Of course, even the official 54Mbps limit outpaces the 11Mbps speed of equipment that uses 802.11b technology. But how much will that mean to real people? When you connect a cable or DSL modem to an 802.11b network, it's the Internet connection, not the wireless one, that's the bottleneck.
The new standard has other advantages. It uses safe, 128-bit encryption by default. And its 5.2GHz frequency band isn't likely to run into much interference.
But for the time being, at least, the real issue is price. If you buy one each of all three D-LinkAir Pro products -- enough to tie one desktop and one notebook to a wired network or the Internet, it could easily cost you more than $800 if you don't shop around for bargains. By contrast, D-Link's equivalent 802.11b products would cost about half of that.
D-Link sees the 802.11a standard as part of the wave of the future, an enabling technology that will open the pipe for higher-speed access, cable movies around the house, and functions we can't yet imagine. Additional product support is in development from the company.