Wi-Fi Pre-Certification Becoming Trend

By Ed Sutherland

May 13, 2005

Whether you look at it as certifying intellectual property or just a reference design, more and more companies like India's Wipro are testing items that will never be offered for sale to the public.

India-based outsourcing giant Wipro Technologies is the latest company seeking certification of Wi-Fi products which never will appear on store shelves. The move is a trend fueled by increased competitiveness, acknowledges Frank Hanzlik, Wi-Fi Alliance general manager.

In April, the nonprofit industry group certified Wipro Technology's proprietary FireFly platform used to test its 802.11a silicon and software later licensed to WLAN equipment makers. Without the certification, licensees of Wipro's intellectual property are left with uncertainty.

"When they purchase an intellectual property core [software that can be modified to work with integrated circuits], they face the risk of whether the product developed will be successful in interoperability," says Sukalyan Murkhejee, a Wipro spokesperson.

While Wipro believes this is the first time the Wi-Fi Alliance has certified a company's intellectual property, the Alliance disagrees.

"The Wi-Fi Alliance does not certify intellectual property, per se, unless it is included within a tested device," according to a Wi-Fi Alliance spokesperson. The Wipro FireFly evaluation system was certified as an 802.11a access point.

Hanzlik characterizes the Wipro testbed as a reference design. The Wi-Fi Alliance has certified many other wireless reference designs, including Broadcom's 54g access point design. In 2003, Broadcom said the certification of the reference design gave customers of their chip "a head start in building 54g systems that meet stringent interoperability requirements."

"Achieving Wi-Fi certification of our reference designs provides our customers with added confidence that their end products will also be able to receive certification," says Jeff Abramowitz, Senior Director of Marketing for Broadcom's Wi-Fi Products. "It is extremely important to our partners that products based on our technology are eligible for certification."

These certified reference designs frequently become part of the testbed used by the Alliance, if they're the first of their kind.

Because of the competitive environment that Wi-Fi chipmakers find themselves in, entering negotiations with customers with certified reference designs can be a valuable bargaining chip, according to Hanzlik.

Given the choice between producing a product using an uncertified reference design and one already approved, many Taiwan OEMs will pick the certified design over others, says Hanzlik.

What about Wipro?

"We are pleased Wipro has become the first Indian company to obtain Wi-Fi certification," Hanzlik says. He believes that India-based companies are "helping expand the market for Wi-Fi in India and beyond."

After certification of its 11a FireFly platform, Wipro plans to release an updated version of its 802.11e intellectual property core, and intends to have ready its 802.11n MAC in the first quarter of 2006, according to the company.

While hesitant to identify any 802.11 licensees, Wipro says it has licensed its 802.11n IP to "a large telecom player." It lists telecom providers Alcatel, Ericsson, Nokia and Nortel as customers. Wipro also develops networking gear for the likes of Nortel and Cisco.

Wipro is part of a lucrative market for the bug testing of software. Software errors cost enterprises and consumers $60 billion each year in the U.S., according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Wipro is not your ordinary high-tech startup. Begun in the 1940s, Wipro started as a vegetable oil distributor. Following India's expulsion of multinational corporations in the 1970s, Wipro found itself in the tech sector.

The creator of the first Indian-made PC in the 1970s, Wipro during the 1980s turned its engineers into an R&D department for hire. Indeed, Ramesh Emani, president of embedding and product engineering at Wipro Technologies, has said the firm is "the back-office R&D facility for many companies."

India, the fourth-largest economy in Asia with a population of more than one billion, is hobbled by a trifecta of technological woes: a crumbling and archaic landline phone system, a broadband access rate of two in 10,000 people, and a government just now loosening its grip on wireless spectrum. Even with the obstacles, Bangalore—Wipro's base of operations—attracts so many Wi-Fi players that the area is often described as India's Silicon Valley.

"Companies across the spectrum see the advantages of India," says Hanzlik. Along with powerhouses Intel and Microsoft, smaller companies such as Broadcom, Agere and others also have a presence in the country.

While broadband usage is currently low, both government and private industry are expecting that will change. The Indian government hopes to see 3 million broadband users by December. Currently, DSL is the most prevalent access method for broadband.

Currently, there are 350 Wi-Fi hotspots throughout India, though that number should change dramatically within six months. India-based Dishnet Wireless announced plans this month to become the country's largest Wi-Fi provider, establishing 6,000 hotspots in 38 cities. Working with Pronto Networks, Dishnet will begin rolling out 200 hotspots in June. The company hopes to have 2,000 subscribers by the end of the 18 to 24 month rollout. The Wi-Fi hotspots are expected to provide laptop users with a 500 kbit/sec connection. The service is targeting both enterprises and consumers. Dishnet plans to employ a local chain of cafes operated by the company's owner to attract users.

Microsense, headquartered in Chennai, India, announced its intentions to add 1,000 Wi-Fi hotspots within the next six months to the 200 it already operates. Another Indian Wi-Fi provider, Sifry Ltd, earlier began offering broadband service.

In 2004, India-based BroVis Wireless Networks chose the Atheros 802.11b/g chipset to power its outdoor wireless solution.

While India is important to the increasing international nature of Wi-Fi, the always-large market of China is also on Hanzlik's mind. In fact, the next Wi-Fi Alliance membership meeting will be held in Beijing, from September 13 to 15.

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