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Do You Know <U>Your</U> Alphabet?

Tue, 01/29/2002 - 4:13am
By Kim Stokes, Editor-in -Chief, kstokes@cahners.com


I thought I knew my alphabet, especially being from the Sesame Street Generation. But since the IEEE announcement of another 802.11 tentative standard for Wireless Local Area Networks (WLANs) — 802.11g — I'm not so sure.

As an editor, I am occasionally approached by companies who claim that their widgets are the best and only ones in the world that exist with particular specifications. Lately, however, I seem to be hearing companies boasting about how the standard they choose to design their WLAN chipsets with, is the standard that will prevail. With so much in the wireless industry to stay on top of, I never thought I'd have to learn my "a, b, g's" all over again.

The numerous 802.11 standards provide mobile business professionals with the ability to pick up and have access to network information anywhere in their building. You could watch your favorite TV show in your living room and search the web at the same time with your iPAQ. You could also hang out in Cyber Cafes, airports and some hotels, and connect wirelessly.

At the beginning of this 'alphabet' is 802.11a. This standard has proved advantageous based on its high bandwidth. The 802.11a standard achieves 54 Mbps bandwidth in the 5 GHz frequency range. These specifications allow 802.11a to provide consumers with the speed and quality that they receive from wireline transmissions.

Now, 802.11b is a little slower than 802.11a and uses a different frequency. The 802.11b standard works in the 2.4 GHz range, which tends to have less interference with other products that may be in the home or office, but only achieves 11 Mbps bandwidth. Each of these standards have their advantages and disadvantages. The prime dilemma seems to be among chipset designers and manufacturers.

Chip manufacturers invest huge amounts of money in the design and development of components, which then have to be sold to partners that make the commercial products. A subset of the 802.11 standard debacle among chip manufacturers is whether CMOS or SiGe is cheaper. Then you have the CMOS folks saying it's cheaper and the SiGe folks saying that's cheaper. So far we have an alphabet of a, b, c, g, m, o, s... let's look at the 'g'.

802.11g encompasses some of 802.11a and 802.11b. The 802.11g standard achieves a slower bandwidth than 'a', but faster than 'b'. The upside to this new standard is that it's backward compatible with 'b', where 'a' is not. Once again, our lives and the demand placed on design engineers comes down to faster and the best quality. While 802.11a is enjoying a great demand now, 802.11g will boost the data rates of 802.11b and provide users with the ability to upgrade existing equipment rather than spend an exuberant amount of money on replacing infrastructure.

According to Cahners In-Stat, 802.11a chipsets will only represent 33% of the market by 2005, while 802.11g (or a combination of 802.11a and 802.11g) chipsets will make up 63%of the market in the next 3 years. If this holds true, our 'alphabet' may not begin with 'a' anymore.

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