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Broadcom wins HP support for ‘54g’ WLAN brand

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The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

Broadcom's cunning plan to dominate the 802.11g WLAN market by attaching its '54g' brand name to the putative standard took a step closer to fruition today when HP said it will not only integrate a 54g-based chipset into its Compaq Presario 2100 and 2500 notebooks, but both machines will sport the '54g' logo.

Broadcom's 54g chipset provides 54Mbps wireless networking in the 2.4GHz band, and is fully compatible with the official 802.11b 11Mbps/2.4GHz standard. As yet, 802.11g has yet to be ratified as an official IEEE standard - it's simply a draft specification at this point.

Broadcom believes there will be few changes to the specification before it is signed off as a standard, an event the company expects to take place around June, Broadcom senior marketing director for wireless products, Jeff Abramowitz, told us.

HP joins the likes of Linksys, Belkin and Buffalo, the US and European subsidiary of Japanese wireless vendor Melco, in branding Broadcom-based product as '54g'. Dell offers a 54g-based part as a free upgrade to its Centrino-based D series Latitude notebooks, but currently doesn't promote the 54g brand.

Abramowitz describes the brand as a "performance standard", but consumers may make the understandable assumption that 54g is somehow different or better than other products bearing whatever title the Wi-Fi Alliance chooses to promote 802.11g under.

To be fair to Broadcom, it's no worse than any of the other vendors attempting to hi-jack 802.11 - a, b or g - with alternative brands. The higher performance offered by the 802.11g spec. matched with its backward compatibility with 802.11b devices is expected to win plenty of consumer and corporate support this year, and ultimately provide a stepping stone to the more sophisticated but incompatible 802.11a standard. 802.11a operates in the less-noisy 5GHz band.

Apple calls 802.11g Airport Extreme, though that's largely only a matter for the relatively insular Mac market. The big challenger is Intel, which wants world+dog to picture the word 'Centrino' when it thinks about wireless networking, whatever the 802.11 variant. Intel's 802.11g upgrade for Centrino isn't due until Q3.

Broadcom's pitch, meanwhile, is that 54g delivers the best performance with 802.11g networking. Like almost all WLAN companies, Broadcom promotes 802.11g as a 54Mbps technology, even though that's only possible in perfect conditions and even then only a raw data rate - error correction and network traffic management drive the real data transmission rate down considerably. Only independent testing will show whether Broadcom's chipset delivers data speeds closer to the maximum than other solutions. ®

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