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Cisco and Intel split on high speed wireless futures

To be or not to 802.11g

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Cisco and Intel are at odds over which emerging standard for high speed wireless LANs offers the best migration path for users.

At a briefing in London yesterday, Cisco came out heavily in favour of 802.11g; this standard is backwards-compatible with existing 802.11b-based networking kit, and works in the existing 2.4GHz spectrum.

The (other) next generation standard, 802.11a, which sits in the 5GHz range, involves more work in migration, but Intel (among others) believes it will arrive earlier and attain a lion's share of the market.

Both standards offer theoretical data transfer rates of up to 54Mbps, compared to the 11Mbps delivered by existing 802.11b kit.

Martin Cook, a business development director at Cisco, argues that 802.11g offers a more straightforward migration path, as a jump to 802.11a will mean swapping out client cards and carrying out another site survey.

802.11a can be used in the US and Asia, but European regulators are yet to give it the stamp of approval, and this may take years, he argues. 802.11a is "hype", certainly as far as Europe is concerned, he says.

Not so, says David Bradshaw, Intel's EMEA head of Wireless LAN product marketing. ETSI, the European regulator ETSI is pro-approval, while the UK Radio Authority is firmly on-side, he says.

Opposition to approval for 802.11a, which occupies the 5GHz part of the spectrum, comes largely from satellite operators and the military (radar works at a similar frequency).

The technical objection to 802.11a is that it does not include Dynamic Frequency Selection, which allows devices to change channels to avoid interference, and Transmission Power Control, which reduces power as a device gets closer to a base station. Both standards are mandatory in Europe, and are being incorporated in 802.11a.

However Bluetooth, mobile phones and microwave ovens also use the 2.4GHz spectrum, so 802.11a and 802.11g is not without potential interference issues either. Cisco argues that interference with Bluetooth is "minimal" but admits that the "jury is still out" when it comes to interference.

802.11g will be part of Intel's product offering but Bradshaw said that although the standard has been ratified a specification won't come out until Q1 2003 and 802.11g product won't be delivered till the middle of next year. By that time 802.11a will be the incumbent, he said.

To prepare for this, Intel is shipping a dual standard access point that will take either 802.11a or 802.11b cards, so when European countries approve the technology (it won't all happen at once) users can slot in high-speed cards.

Leaving aside differing views on future standards, Intel and Cisco are united in saying THAT firms can achieve productivity gains and drastically simply network set-up using existing 802.11b networking kit.

ThIS view is supported by Alan Hughes, a network infrastructure analyst at Reuters, who said that his company has seen marked productivity gains from a 1,000 user wireless LAN rollout for a "relatively low cost" of investment.

WLANs are easy to set up and avoid the need to roll out yards of cable and duct tape; for Reuters' users there are benefits in freeing staff from their desks. This enables sales reps to demo products in cafes or busy execs to catch up with email during lulls in conference room meetings, for example.

Such benefits are difficult to quantify, Hughes said, but do show wireless LANs are helping in Reuters' overall mobility push. ®

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