Intel claims that the third version of its Centrino Wi-Fi chip set, launched last Thursday, is "keeping pace" with developments; rivals such as Atheros say that, despite adding the 802.11g standard, Intel is still at least a generation behind competitors whose products offer more features, including longer range and faster throughput.
Intel's new PRO/Wireless 2200BG Wi-FI chip, packed in an embedded mini-PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) adapter, incorporates both the 802.11b and 802.11g Wi-Fi standards, which support raw data rates of 11 Mbit/s and 54 Mbit/s respectively, in the license-exempt 2.4-GHz band.
Last March, Intel introduced its first Centrino product for notebook and tablet computers, a processor that operated on the 802.11b standard only. The success has been such that analyst IDC predicted in June that Wi-Fi would be standard on nearly all notebooks.
It is the move to faster standards that has been the issue. In October, last OctoberIntel introduced a dual-band Wi-Fi Centrino chip set that supported the 802.11b and the 802.11a standards. The 802.11a standard has a raw data rate of 54Mbit/sec, but unlike 802.11g, it operates in the 5-GHz band. Despite Intel's enthusiasm, analysts such as Gartner advised users to wait for tri-band products.
Both Atheros Communications and Broadcom offered dual-band 802.11 b/g chip sets before Intel introduced Centrino last year. And both continue to outpace Intel in the breadth and depth of their offerings, which include tri-mode 802.11 a/b/g chip sets.
Daniel Francisco, an Intel spokesman, said the company plans to begin production of its own tri-band Wi-FI chips by midyear, with shipments to customers slated for the second half of 2004.
Colin Macnab, vice president of business development at Atheros, said that if Intel introduces a tri-mode version of Centrino in the latter half of 2004, "it will put them just under two years behind us." He said Atheros, which introduced a tri-mode chip set in March 2002, expects to announce its fifth generation of products shortly.
The entire Wi-Fi industry owes Intel thanks for its $300 million Centrino advertising campaign, however, noted McNab. That campaign, launched last spring, has increased the visibility of all Wi-Fi products, he said.
Asked about Intel's ability to keep pace with the Wi-Fi market, Francisco said the company is doing just that. At any given time, he said, one manufacturer or another may have a more advanced chip set. He emphasised that Intel is concentrating on the Wi-Fi user "experience," which the company believes is best met by an embedded, rather than add-on, client.
He added that Intel believes it is keeping pace with the current state of the Wi-Fi market and its access-point infrastructure. Today on enterprise and public-access networks, the infrastructure is primarily 802.11b, with 802.11g just gaining acceptance, he said.
Earlier this month, Broadcom said it had shipped 11 million 802.11g chip sets, which are used in notebooks from manufacturers such as Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard. Wi-Fi access-point manufacturers that use Broadcom chips include the Linksys subsidiary of Cisco and Motorola.
Major notebook manufacturers such as Dell, IBM and Gateway offer customers a choice of either a built-in Centrino chip set or a mini-PCI card incorporating either Atheros or Broadcom technology.
Besides offering tri-mode chip sets, Atheros introduced in September what it calls Extended Range technology, which the company said doubles the range of Wi-Fi gear. The range now runs from roughly 100 feet indoors to about 300 feet outdoors.
At the same time, Atheros introduced technology that it said would double the raw data rates for both 802.11a and 802.11g chips from 54 Mbit/s to 108 Mbit/s, with end-user data rates of roughly 90 Mbit/s. This speed upgrade is proprietary, as an IEEE's standard for this speed will not be published for a couple of years.
Atheros customers include IBM and HP, which use the company's products in client cards. Proxim, which manufactures enterprise-class access points, uses Atheros chip sets. HP also uses Atheros products in its access points. Netgear also uses the Atheros chipset.