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2/27/2006
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Office Wi-Fi May Catch Up To Home

Walk into any electronics store, and you can buy a wireless router that claims to break Wi-Fi's official 54-Mbps speed limit. But while home networking gear has crept up as high as 240 Mbps over the last three years, more expensive business-class access points are stuck in the slow lane. That changes in the coming weeks, as Cisco's Linksys unit and Trapeze Networks are set to unveil higher-speed products for businesses.

Why now? Compatibility concerns had stopped business access points from using the higher speeds. They're all proprietary, requiring that laptops and access points use radio chips from the same company. The IEEE last month published a draft of its 802.11n standard, aiming to boost Wi-Fi to more than 600 Mbps, giving vendors a spec to base products on.

But it's only a draft, so buyer beware. "Companies are being irresponsible if they say they comply with a standard that doesn't exist yet," says David Borison, director of product management at Airgo Networks, the first chipmaker to launch a "pre-N" line. The faster chips can interoperate, but only at ordinary, slower Wi-Fi.

Linksys and Trapeze are careful not to claim interoperability. "We see it more applicable to small businesses," says Malachy Moynihan, general manager of home networking at Linksys. A small business can standardize around one vendor, but a large one can't. He also says range is as big a benefit to business as speed.

Trapeze takes a different strategy. Its forthcoming access points are designed for outdoor use, creating wireless mesh networks. Using technology from chipmaker Atheros Communications for faster links, it relies on radios rather than wiring to link access points together. Trapeze will sidestep compatibility problems by using the faster Atheros-based links to connect its access points, with standard Wi-Fi for connections to end users.

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