Wi-Fi vendors begin 802.11g upgrades

Update: Some wireless LAN equipment makers are beginning to offer downloads for making their existing equipment fully compatible with the newly approved 802.11g specification. But critics say these companies jumped the gun

Belkin, which sells PC accessories and networking equipment aimed at the mass market, said on Monday it is offering upgrades for its wireless LAN product line, called 54g, to bring them up to date with the newly approved IEEE 802.11g specification, the first major wireless LAN vendor to do so.

The specification, which is compatible with mainstream 802.11b equipment but offers faster transmission speeds, was approved on Thursday, but most manufacturers have been offering 802.11g-based hardware for weeks or months. Apple Computer's AirPort Extreme wireless LAN products, for example, are based on the 802.11g draft specification and have been shipping since the beginning of this year.

Most major wireless LAN vendors have said they will be offering software upgrades for their products based on the draft 802.11g specification, but Belkin's is the first to become available to users. Belkin also said it has updated its new 54g products to be 802.11g-compliant. Belkin's upgrades are available from its Web site.

Vendors who began shipping their equipment more recently, however, said that their equipment is already compliant. Proxim, for example, launched its 802.11g range earlier this month and said it would not be needing to upgrade. On the other hand, Linksys, the wireless LAN market share leader, announced its first 802.11g products last autumn and said it will be offering a firmware upgrade in the next few weeks.

Proxim criticised competitors for forcing their customers to go through what it predicted would be a difficult upgrade process. "Because Belkin's products came out too early, they don't work with 802.11g standard products," said a Proxim spokesman.

The biggest wireless LAN equipment vendors are Linksys, D-Link, Buffalo Technology Symbol Technology and Proxim, according to Gartner.

Wireless LANs have exploded in popularity over the past few months, with equipment shipments totalling 19.5 million units in 2002, up from 8.9 million the previous year, according to new figures from Gartner. The success of Wi-Fi, as it is also known, has been helped by the appearance of wireless Internet hot-spots in public areas such as coffee shops and airports.

Compliance with the finalised 802.11g specification is needed to ensure compatibility with other manufacturers' equipment.

802.11g's main benefit is a theoretical maximum throughput of 54Mbps, compared with 11Mbps for 802.11b.


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