Cards that integrate wireless tech coming

With the latest 54M-bps (bits-per-second) 802.11a wireless LAN (WLAN) gear just becoming available, vendors at Comdex Fall here talked about the next step in wireless networking, a convergence with 802.11b, cellular networks and Bluetooth.

With all the standards for WLAN, WAN (Wide Area Network) and PAN (Personal Area Network) on one PC card, a user could roam from the 802.11a WLAN electronic learning class room, to the 802.11b airport lounge, the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) phone network outside and also communicate with a Bluetooth equipped device.

“We’re working on integrated products that will allow you to roam,” said Lars Nilsson, manager of strategic marketing for Stockholm, Sweden-based L.M. Ericsson Telephone Co. The first of these integrated PC cards from Ericsson should be available in Europe in the first half of next year, with the rest of the world following later, he added.

Chipmaker Spirea AB of Kista, Sweden, announced at Comdex that its TripleTraC chip would support 802.11a, 802.11b and HiperLAN2, a European WLAN standard. Spirea sells chips to OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and hopes to have TripleTraC in full production by the fourth quarter of 2002, it said in a news release.

Wireless Networks Inc. of Calgary, Alberta, announced at Comdex that it is working on a “universal access point” that supports both Bluetooth and 802.11a, but not 802.11b.

Combining WLAN standards on one PC card eases migration for businesses planning to outfit only heavy-usage areas of their office with a fast 802.11a WLAN, while serving other areas with the current 11M-bps 802.11b network. It takes away the need for users to swap cards to get access when moving around. The 802.11a and 802.11b technologies are not compatible because they operate on 5GHz and 2.4GHz, respectively.

“Dual-band operation is inevitable with the millions of 802.11b sockets out there,” said David Laing, product marketing manager at chipmaker Intersil Corp., which delivers its PRISM chip sets to Cisco Systems Inc. and Siemens AG, among others.

Vendors tout 802.11a as less susceptible to interference than 802.11b because the latter has to compete with microwave ovens and cordless telephones on the 2.4GHz band. One user checking out WLAN hardware was wondering whether he should wait for 802.11a products to be available, or just buy an 802.11b WLAN.

“I’ve tried two different 802.11b networks but never got good reach. I’ve got cordless phones and a microwave that could cause interference; that problem might be solved with 802.11a,” said Jim Kearns, president of Phoenix, Arizona-based consulting company Cardon Ventures.

Still, 802.11a isn’t fully developed yet. The specification has yet to be approved in Europe and the WECA (Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance) has yet to come out with test guidelines, said Agere Systems Inc. at Comdex this week. Agere, for those reasons, has decided not to come out with any 802.11a products yet.

Intel Corp., Proxim Inc., TDK Corp., SMC Networks Inc. and others did show their first products supporting the 802.11a, or as it is also known Wi-Fi5, specification.

Intel’s PRO/Wireless 5000 LAN family of 802.11a products is available today in the United States, with the access point priced at US$449, the PC card for laptops at $179 and the PCI adapter for desktops at $229.

Proxim’s Skyline 802.11a series PC card and access points are priced exactly the same as Intel’s products and are slated to be available in December.

SMC, meanwhile, has priced its EZ Connect PC card at $145 and access point at $365. The products are due out in December.

TDK did not give pricing or availability information for the PC card it was showing, but promised to show a full line up of 802.11a products at Networld + Interop 2001 in May.