Atheros, Cisco to unveil new wireless products

Cheaper tri-mode clients are among the new products

Wireless LAN chip vendors and hardware manufacturers this week will introduce products designed to provide users with advanced features, including tri-mode clients at lower prices and advanced management tools for enterprise users.

Atheros Communications Inc. in San Jose will introduce a universal chip set that covers all WLAN standards, including 802.11a, b and g. WLANs that adhere to the 802.11b/g standards operate in the 2.4-GHz frequency band, with raw data rates of 11Mbit/sec. and 54M bit/sec., respectively. WLANs that use the 802.11a standard operate in the 5-Ghz band and have a raw data rate of 54Mbit/sec.

Craig Barratt, Atheros' president and CEO, predicted that the street price for the universal clients will quickly drop below older, dual-mode WLAN clients. Current dual-band 802.11b/g or 802.11b client cards have a street price of about $70. Barratt forecast that the street price for the universal client will come in about 20% lower, or roughly $56 per client.

Such a drop would reflect the economies of scale Atheros has managed to achieve by putting all the functionality of the three WLAN standards onto just two chips, with one handling the radio frequency functions and the other signal processing.

Atheros has also built extra functionality into the new universal card, including an encryption engine designed to support Wireless Protected Access (WPA), the new WLAN industry security standard, as well as the federal Advanced Encryption Standard, which offers even better protection than WPA.

Barratt said the versatility of the universal client means it could eventually replace single-mode 802.11 hardware. Craig Mathias, an analyst at Farpoint Group in Ashland, Mass., agreed, saying that eventually single- and even dual-mode WLAN clients "will fade from the scene."

Atheros also introduced a WLAN access-point chip that incorporates all three 802.11 standards, allowing users to run two separate and concurrent wireless networks from a single access point. Proxim Corp. in Sunnyvale, Calif., has incorporated this chip into a family of dual-band access points it will introduce this week, according to Lynn Lucas, the company's marketing director. Proxim also uses the Atheros chip set in its universal card.

Prices for Proxim's dual-band access point start at $795, and the enterprise-grade universal card with 152-bit encryption goes for an estimated street price of $110.

Also this week, Cisco Systems Inc. is introducing a new architecture for its enterprise WLAN products that includes an improved version of its Cisco Works Wireless LAN Solution Engine. It runs on an access-control server priced at $8,495 and will be available this month. The tool allows IT departments to remotely manage up to 2,500 access points, compared with 500 in the older version, according to Christine Falsetti, Cisco's director of marketing for wireless and mobility.

The improved version of the management tool also allows IT departments to remotely detect and disable unauthorized access points, Falsetti said. The Cisco Works Wireless LAN Solution Engine also includes an RF management tool to help map out the best configuration for a network.

Joel Conover, an analyst at Current Analysis in Sterling, Va., said Cisco has provided enterprises with a new suite of tools that should be viewed as "fairly threatening" to WLAN start-ups such as Aruba Networks Inc. in San Jose, which provides similar management tools through a switch-based architecture.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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