Expect laptops sporting WLANs running at 54Mbit/s over the IEEE802.11a spec to appear from most major manufacturers sometime over the next six months. That's because Intel has just launched the Intel Pro/Wireless 2100A, a mini-PCI card that sells to notebook vendors for "a handful of dollars" more than the existing IEEE802.11b (11Mbit/s) part, according to Intel's Centrino marketing manager for Europe, Mike Bonello.

Though the chip would cost more than its predecessor, he suggested the price delta was small enough that many vendors would choose to sell 11a-enabled notebooks at the same price as their current 11b-enabled products, especially since the new part is backwards compatible.

The Pro/Wireless 2100A chip supports both 802.11a and 802.11b connections. Intel is working on a chip that supports both 802.11b and 802.11g networks, and expects to ship that chip to PC manufacturers before the end of the year, with systems available in the first half of next year, according to an Intel spokesman. A chip that supports all three standards will follow in the second half of 2004, he said.

The new product is an upgrade for Intel's Centrino technology, which consists of the Pentium M processor, a chipset and the mini-PCI card which houses the radio, and allows notebooks to connect to wireless networks.

Benello added that although product release had been pushed back, this was so that issues relating to range and bandwidth could be resolved.