Intel introduces fast Wi-Fi to Europe

The chip maker has begun selling its 802.11a-based products in some European countries for the first time, having dodged regulatory obstacles

Intel has announced next-generation wireless LAN products -- also known as Wi-Fi -- for sale in Europe for the first time, following on from an agreement with the UK wireless spectrum authority that circumvented EU regulatory issues.

The products, announced at the European Intel Developer Forum in Munich on Tuesday, include a network access point and adapters for notebook PCs, both based on the 802.11a wireless LAN standard. These products are in Intel's PRO/Wireless 5000 family.

The availability of fast wireless LANs in Europe is the result of Intel's negotiations with regulatory authorities in various European countries, and the 802.11a products are therefore only available in France, the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden. The new products may be attractive to companies or individuals who need higher-bandwith wireless LANs to handle large file transfers, data mining, video conferencing or other data-intensive applications.

For other European countries, Intel is offering a PRO/Wireless 2000 access point based on the slower 802.11b technology, but is upgradeable to handle 802.11a clients. The access point will be available across Europe by the end of June.

Although 802.11a is already in use in the US, industry observers had not expected it to be available in Europe until the end of the year because it lacks approval by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). A deal with the UK's Radiocommunications Agency in March sidestepped ETSI approval, although the agreement carries certain limitations.

802.11a operates at up to 54 megabits per second (mbps) and uses unlicensed spectrum in the 5GHz range, while the current 802.11b LANs, which give 11mbps throughput, use the 2.4GHz spectrum. European approval of 802.11a is being delayed by the fact that military and satellite networks also use spectrum in the 5GHz range.

Intel's agreement with UK regulator the Radiocommunications Agency sidesteps this problem by limiting users to undisputed parts of the 5GHz spectrum. A similar agreement will allow users in the Netherlands to buy systems there too.

UK users will buy exactly the same version of the product that is for sale in the US, but the box will carry a sticker and contain prominent instructions for the user to select four legal bands during set-up. If the product were fully licensed, then eight bands would be available.

By the end of this year, Intel plans to add an ETSI-required feature called DFS (dynamic frequency spectrum) to its 802.11a products, which will allow them to be fully licensed.

ZDNet UK Tech Update's Peter Judge contributed to this report.

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