IDF: Intel's tri-mode future for wireless networking

Wireless LAN standards are battling it out - but Intel has a plan for reconciling their differences
Written by Rupert Goodwins, Contributor
Intel is dedicated to making wireless networking a standard part of PC and other platforms, according to Taizoon Doctor, general manager of Intel's Mobile Communications Division, and the company wants to make it as ubiquitous a part of new products as graphics, sound or wired networking. However, the proposed 802.11g 54 megabits per second (mbps) wireless LAN standard is unlikely to have a future independent of other standards, he said. In a talk outlining Intel's short- and medium-term wireless networking strategy at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco, Doctor said that many factors favoured the alternative, same-speed 802.11a standard, despite continued legislative delays in Europe. He said that while wireless networking as a whole was maturing rapidly, areas requiring work include security, quality of service, support for IPv6, and the establishment of "hotspots", public areas where wireless networking is available. IPv6 is the next-generation of Internet Protocol, designed to vastly increase the number of available Internet addresses. Doctor cited Intel's membership of standards bodies working in all these areas as proof of the company's determination. In particular, 802.11e -- the standard for quality of service and guaranteed throughput -- was seen as important for making the PC, not the set-top box, the centre of the home network. European standards battle
The battle of the wireless standards continues to rage. 802.11g shares the same frequency band as the 11mbps 802.11b networking protocol at 2.4GHz, whereas 802.11a is in a new and much higher band at 5GHz. The European Union at first banned any networks from this band apart from the Hiperlan II standard, despite a complete lack of products: this restriction is still in place, but by making 802.11a a nominal member of the Hiperlan family of standards, the law has been bypassed. The one remaining problem is that some European states want to restrict the power and frequencies used because of existing services: a modification to the standard, 802.11h, incorporates this and is expected to be approved by the end of the year, Doctor said. 802.11g is not expected to be approved until 2003. Dealing with interference
Because 2.4GHz is better at penetrating walls and ceilings than 5GHz, some commentators have said that 802.11g will have better range and throughput in practice than 802.11a. However, the modulation method used for 802.11g is better at coping with reflections that would otherwise interfere with the signal, Doctor said, and some materials are more absorbent at the lower frequency. In particular, 2.4GHz is close to the frequency that water is best at absorbing -- which is why microwave ovens operate at that frequency -- so in many circumstances 5GHz will in fact cope better. Also, 802.11a has eight channels to 802.11g's three, so can cope with a higher density of users without interference. Making 802.11g part of the solution
Doctor predicted that 802.11g will only make sense as part of a dual-band, tri-mode solution: access points capable of operating at 2.4GHz and 5GHz simultaneously on all three wireless standards. On the way to that, Intel will be driving a transition to dual-mode, dual-band 802.11a and 802.11b products, much as it did with 10baseT wired Ethernet from 10mbps to 10/100mbps. Dual-band access points will be available in the US in the first quarter of 2002, he said, with clients following in Q3. He pointed out that once such products exist, adding a third protocol such as 802.11g to one of the supported bands would be effectively free to the manufacturers, so this could happen as soon as the standard is approved. In the future, he predicted more bandwidth -- especially as gigabit wired Ethernet gets to the desktop -- better manageability and better security would be the focus of new standards.
Networks and networking products have seen huge innovation and growth in the last few years. High bandwidth LANs and Storage Area Networks are now in common use. ZDNet UK's Networking Central keeps you up to date with the latest news and views. If it moves, we cover it. See ZDNet UK's Mobile Technology News Section for the latest news, reviews and price checks on mobile phones, PDAs, notebook computers and anything else you can take away. Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Go to the ZDNet news forum. Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.
Editorial standards