Intel advances Centrino with faster wireless

3G and 802.11n are on the roadmap for the next generation of Centrino, due next year

Intel will embrace the upcoming high speed wireless LAN standard 802.11n with an upgrade to its Centrino wireless chipset.

Centrino, which is built into many laptops, currently only works with the three most widely deployed wireless standards — a, b and g.

Next-generation equipment based on 802.11n will offer throughput of up to 300Mbps, compared with a maximum of 54Mbps at present.

802.11n hasn't yet been certified, but several vendors are already shipping pre-certified kit. This has prompted Intel to release a new version of Centrino code-named Santa Rosa, which is due in the first six months of 2007.

Santa Rosa will be based on the Core 2 Duo processor, and it will also feature a built-in 3G EDGE module, provided by Nokia.

Santa Rosa's two radios will give users a choice of wireless connectivity without having to install a separate datacard.

"Our vision for Centrino is that we have a solution that attaches to the fastest, or most cost-effective, solution available," said Intel spokesperson Chris Hogg. "The enhancement will deliver many benefits to users."

But critics were less convinced by the appeal of Santa Rosa.

"Most businesses work on a three- to five-year lifecycle [for mobile devices]," said Martin Morey, head of the Mobile Computer Users Group. "So the take-up is likely to be quite slow. They are not pining to be early adopters."

Morey told ZDNet UK that the most important thing was that sessions over mobile connections did not drop whichever bearer was being used.

"It's fine that Intel are putting these developments into their chipsets, but the really important thing is that sessions persist," said Morey.

Some corporate users are holding back from buying 802.11n equipment because the standard is not yet finalised, and they are concerned that equipment produced now may not be interoperable.

Intel is trying to address these concerns by establishing an interoperability programme with equipment vendors.

Hogg said: "We were keen to bring the benefits of the product [to our customers] in a suitable timeframe. It is pre-standard, but we are doing a lot of the testing work. We wanted to do the quality assurance of our 802.11n solution".

The Wi-Fi Alliance — a global supplier-led organisation — is running a more widespread interoperability testing programme covering nearly every equipment vendor.

The four vendors Intel has publicly chosen to work with all provide primarily consumer and small office equipment: Buffalo, D-Link, Linksys and Netgear.

Intel is also porting some of its vPro desktop firmware to Centrino, so IT managers will be able to wirelessly perform a range of administrative tasks on user's laptops.

WiMax will be integrated into Santa Rosa in 2008, the company added.