Dual-Band Reaches the Laptop

By Eric Griffith

October 01, 2002

Major players are gearing up to put PC Cards capable of 802.11a and 802.11b in the hands of users for less than $150 per card.

It's a chicken-and-the-egg thing: Will dual-band access points help spur adoption of wireless networks because any user can log on? Or should the client users have support on their wireless devices for multiple protocols so they can log on wherever they want to go?

While some companies have begun to support the first assertion by shipping access points and routers that support both 802.11a (54Mbps in the 5GHz band) and 802.11b (11Mbps in the 2.4GHz band), it looks like the latter might be the way many product manufacturers are leaning.

"At the client side is where the customer has the ability to get the faster speed," says Lianne Caetano, Wireless Product Line Manager at Netgear. "They can easily go from office to home and work with any infrastructure -- a hotspot with 11b or home setup with 11a (so they avoid interference with microwaves or cordless phones) or at the office with 11b again."

To back that up, Netgear is the first company actually shipping a dual-band network interface card (NIC), the NETGEAR Dual Band PC Card (WAB501). Retailing with an MSRP of $180 and likely selling for less than $150 in stores, the CardBus (32-bit PC Card) WAP501 uses an Atheros chipset comprised of the AR5211 MAC/Baseband chip -- part of the AR5001X set -- with 802.11a/b support and two radio frequency chips, one for each band.

Hot on Netgear's heels (though announced last week) is SMC Networks with the EZ Connect 2.4GHz/5GHz Universal Wireless CardBus Adapter (SMC2335W). It will retail for even less, with an MSRP of $139.99.

Both cards support a 108Mbps "turbo mode" when used with other 802.11a networks products based on the Atheros chips, but no turbo mode is available with the 802.11b side -- it stays at 11Mbps. Likewise, both cards support 64/128/152-bit wired equivalent privacy (WEP) encryption in 802.11a mode and 64/128-bit WEP encryption in 802.11b mode.

Other major WLAN vendors such as Linksys and D-Link both plan to announce dual-band PC Cards soon, perhaps even within the next week.

PC Cards seems to be the only form factor on the horizon at present. Caetano says that for Netgear, a dual-band NIC in a USB 2.0 adapter (so it can take full advantage of the throughput up to 108Mbps) is likely, and perhaps something in a Compact Flash card. Don't expect any internal desktop card right away though. "We're not seeing any demand for PCI," she says.

802.11 Planet Conference Curious about supporting multiple protocols? Join us at the 802.11 Planet Conference & Expo, Dec. 3-5 in Santa Clara, CA. One of our sessions will answer the question: Dual-Mode Chipsets: The Ultimate Solution?

Comment and Contribute
(Maximum characters: 1200). You have
characters left.