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Intel blasts proprietary Wi-Fi tweaks

Hindering adoption of the standard

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IDF Intel Communications Group CTO Eric Mentzer today criticised so-called 'standards-plus' extensions to 802.11 specifications for hindering end users' adoption of WLAN technology.

Mentzer's comments follow the launch earlier this week of Atheros' eXtended Range (XR) technology, which boosts the sensitivity of the company's fourth-generation 802.11a/g radio receivers threefold.

The snag is, XR requires Atheros chips to be fitted in both the client and the base-station to work. If there's a third-party WLAN chipset at either end of the link, the Atheros part defaults to standard 802.11 operation.

Atheros' argument is that it has sufficient market share for almost all end users to be able to buy into the technology without having to check whether existing or future access point or client purchases also support XR.

But is that an assumption Atheros can safely make? We don't think so, and neither does Mentzer.

Mentzer welcomed the innovation that such technologies incorporate. "It's good to work to deliver better range and better power conservation," he said, "but vendors shouldn't force a relationship between the silicon at the access point and at the client. That's not the right approach.

"Users can't depend upon [the availability of compatible nodes] and IT managers can't depend upon it either." That uncertainty, he stressed, "hinders the standard".

Atheros' XR launch follows its earlier release of its Super G system which improves data throughput by up to double 802.11a and g's 54Mbps rate - but only between chipsets from the same vendor.

Fellow Wi-Fi chipset vendor Broadcom introduced its 54g brand earlier this year, too. It delivers the best possible 802.11g performance, the company claims, but again needs to connect to other 54g products to achieve that.

Airgo Networks' multiple-radio 802.11g-boosting system likewise mandates vendor-specific networks to function at top speed, as does Nitro technology, developed by Intersil for its Wi-Fi chipsets but now to be offered by Globespan Virata, which acquired Intersil's WLAN business a few months back.

Mentzer didn't name any of these companies specifically, but it's clear who he was thinking of when we asked him about such developments.

So Intel itself will adhere to the letter of the law? In fact, Mentzer didn't rule out Intel tweaking the standard itself in future WLAN products. "It doesn't make sense to deviate from the standard except in a small way if there are pragmatic deviations that make sense," he said.

Crucially, 'pragmatic' means not requiring a link between client silicon and base-station silicon. Providing a benefit to the client is fine - but don't require the access point to contain the same technology for the client to gain that advantage. ®

Related Stories

Atheros triples Wi-Fi range to 1km
Airgo to double Wi-Fi bandwidth to 108Mbps
Intersil triples 802.11g data rates
Broadcom wins HP support for '54g' WLAN brand

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