Intel shook up the wireless networking world this week when the company let it be known that it was shifting its consumer product focus from the HomeRF wireless networking standard to IEEE 802.11b. That’s the same standard supported in Apple’s AirPort wireless networking products.
Intel has confirmed that its next generation consumer-oriented wireless networking devices will support Wi-Fi. Up until now, Intel has backed the slower HomeRF standard for use in home networking applications, while it has supported Wi-Fi for use in corporate networks.
If this is the first time you’ve heard of the 802.11b standard referred to as “Wi-Fi,” don’t be surprised if you hear it more and more. Easier to get one’s mouth around than “802.11b,” Wi-Fi is being promoted — both as a technology and as an easy-to-remember euphemism — by the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), an industry organization created to promote the 802.11b standard. The alliance includes more than sixty companies, including Apple and Intel.
Apple has made it relatively easy and inexpensive for Mac users to utilize AirPort cards and base stations — the US$99 interface cards are now supported across the entire Mac product line, and base stations cost $299. Apple’s products cost significantly less than many other 802.11b-compliant solutions available for Windows-compatible systems, and up until now, the cost factor has been a significant advantage for HomeRF in the consumer PC realm. Prices on Windows-compatible Wi-Fi products are dropping, though, which makes the 802.11b standard more attractive to home PC users.
Apple and Intel are hardly the only supporters of Wi-Fi, either. The list of companies manufacturing 802.11b-compliant products includes major computer makers like Acer, Compaq, Sony and Toshiba, along with communications companies like 3Com, Cisco, Lucent and Siemens — among many others.
HomeRF, which has only recently become available for PowerBooks through Proxim subsidiary Farallon’s efforts, operates at a fraction of the speed of AirPort. HomeRF’s maximum throughput is 1.6 megabits per second, while AirPort cards can operate at up to 11 megabits per second.