Intersil's 802.11g CCK Mode is Not On the Way

By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

November 19, 2002

UPDATE: We'll see 802.11g NICs and access points by the first quarter of 2003, but Intersil's optional CCK-OFDM mode won't be inside them.

Las Vegas, NV -- Draft 802.11g chip sets are already getting tested out in the field. We'll see 802.11g NICs and access points by the first quarter of 2003, but Intersil's optional Complementary Code Keying-Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (CCK-OFDM) mode won't be inside them.

According to company representatives at Fall Comdex in Las Vegas, Intersil has elected not to put its optional standard into the next generation PRISM GT two-chip 802.11g chip family. Instead, Intersil will only offer 802.11g's two mandatory modes. These are 802.11b's CCK to achieve bit transfer rates of 5.5 and 11Mbps, and 802.11a's OFDM for theoretical speeds of up to 54Mbps 2.4Ghz range.

As for bitter enemy Texas Instrument's (TI) optional 802.11g mode, Packet Binary Convolutional Coding (PBCC) mode, will it ever make it in an Intersil chipset? One Intersil representative said, "Never."

This comes as something of a surprise. 802.11g's roll out was delayed for about a year by fights in the IEEE 802.11g between Intersil and its supporters and TI with its allies over which of the now optional 802.11g standards would become the primary mode for 802.11g. In the end, the two companies agreed to disagree. 802.11g ended up with four different modes: two standard (OFDM and CCK), two optional (CCK-OFDM and PBCC).

So why did Intersil make this move? The answer seems to be two-fold. First, the cost of putting an optional mode into their chip sets -- at a time when lowering the chipset cost is paramount in the cutthroat wireless business -- was judged to be too high, in terms of both cost and time to market. Second, the wireless market has become increasingly confusing even to network professionals, never mind small office and home users. Intersil decided that the advantages of sticking to the mandatory standards would give the company's chipsets the necessary performance and range boost to make them attractive to buyers -- without taking the chance of further puzzling them.

Jim Zyren, Director of Strategic Marketing at Intersil, says OFDM was all Intersil wants or needs. "We wanted OFDM to be the mandatory scheme, with CCK-OFDM optional. We included PBCC as an option in order to get TI to drop its opposition. At the time the proposal was made, ours was the only one left standing. We're implementing the mandatory part of our proposal."

In the meantime, TI, rightly fearing that its PBCC mode might never make it into 802.11g, decided to go its own way. The company created the increasing popular, but non-standard, 802.11b+ chip set family. Perhaps because of this lead time in actually putting PBCC into silicon, TI will deploy its optional mode into their 802.11g chips.

However, according to TI public relations people at Comdex, all that this really means is that in addition to 11g's standard modes, NICs and APs who use TI's chipsets will be 802.11g and 802.11b+ compatible because they'll have PBCC.

As for Intersil's decision to not use its own optional CCK-OFDM mode, TI's media relations program manager, Marisa Speziale, said, "If Intersil isn't using it, no one will."



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