The week Intel launched an 802.11a/b Wi-Fi product, analyst firm Gartner has advised users not to adopt the faster 802.11a wireless standard until a/b/g products arrive next year.

"802.11b should fulfill most users' needs for Ethernet connection as a complement to wired connections through at least 2007," said Gartner vice president Ken Dulaney, pointing out that virtually all hotspots are running 802.11b, and most home Internet use is gated by a broadband connection running at around 500kbit/s.

"802.11a is still moving through worldwide regulatory bodies, and further changes and additions (for example, 802.11h) are likely," said Dulaney. When a/g technology is available, Intel will have more versatile products, he said.

Intel's defence is to agree with what Dulaney says, but argue that the price differential will be so small that the a/b product is worth getting as a safeguard in case networks move to 802.11a.

"We look at 802.11a as a corporate standard, and b as the consumer version," said Alex Ward, product marketing engineer for wireless at Intel UK. "The Radiocommunications Agency is worried about 2.4GHz [used by 802.11b and 802.11g] and are pushing people to 5GHz [used by 802.11a]." Companies that have 802.11b installed should not change it, but new installations should look at working with a/b for the next six months, he said.

However, 802.11g is going to be significant in the long run, according to Intel's Centrino marketing manager for Europe, Mike Bonello. "The 802.11g standard is really going to be the one that offers high bandwidth potential," he said. "802.11a also delivers, but g has the additional advantage of going through partitions." He is less worried than the RA about use of 2.4GHz, saying that worries about interference with microwave ovens and other products, were overstated.

Centrino products supporting both 802.11a and 802.11b should appear in the new year, and there will be no price hike, he said - which is just as well, since there are no public hotspots for the faster speed. Although the 802.11a variant is being implemented in hotspots and offices in the US, Intel has found only one 802.11a hotspot in the first 2000 hotspots across Europe verified for Centrino compatibility. "Service providers are not looking to implement 802.11a," said Benello.

The a/b product was launched to remain competitive, and a/b/g products will come in the second half of 2004. At this point, the Centrino brand itself may be upgraded, although the name will remain the same.

Future changes to Centrino will focus on battery life as much as wireless speed, said Benello. "We will have a six hour battery life without extra batteries," he said, owing to the fact that smaller transistors made with 90nm processes will use less power. "The ultimate goal is all-day computing."