Atheros Multimode 802.11 Hits Multiple Laptops

By Eric Griffith

January 30, 2003

Atheros goes head-to-head with Intel's upcoming Centrino chip set, announcing that four major notebook computer makers are embedding Atheros-based dual-band Wi-Fi in their products.

In a major win for chip maker Atheros Communications, four major laptop manufacturers will be embedding Atheros chips in their laptop products to provide dual-band support for 802.11b and 802.11a... and in one case, 802.11g, as well.

This pits Atheros directly against Intel a customer of Atheros. Notebooks will be coming out soon supporting Intel's Centrino chipset, which combines a Pentium-M processor with other chips including embedded Wi-Fi. Initial Centrino products will support 802.11b, but eventually Intel will move them to dual-band 802.11a/b.

The products with Atheros chips include the already shipping IBM ThinkPad R40, Toshiba Satellite Pro 6100, and the NEC B5 Laptop Lave J (currently only in Japan), all with 802.11a/b support built in via an internal miniPCI card.

Upcoming with the Atheros AR5001X chip will be products from Hewlett-Packard, which will support 802.11a/b/g, a well as security functions for 802.1X and VPNs. Details on when HP's tri-mode laptop will ship are not available yet. Atheros doesn't expect to have its 802.11g solution ready for a while anyway, though the chips are sampling with customers now.

"These are the first of many models to come from these vendors," says Rich Redelfs, president and chief executive officer of Atheros

In a study Atheros commissioned last year, "we saw...that people want [Wi-Fi] embedded, they don't want PCMCIA cards," according to Redelfs. Using dual band 802.11a/b/g support also means users don't have to worry about how to connect and large enterprises get more channels to work with. Vendors avoid having multiple versions of the product and have fewer support calls when someone gets a product with the "wrong kind of Wi-Fi."

Support in the laptops a key differentiator for them from PC Card Wi-Fi because the Atheros embedded chips use software drivers.

"Our MAC can be updated without being flashed, it's a driver based solution," says Redelfs. "It's much easier to just load additional software on the PC."

The Atheros chips in these laptops supports a proprietary 802.11a Turbo Mode that boosts the link speed up to 108Mbps. This Turbo mode only works when the laptop connects to an 802.11a access point also using Atheros chips.

Redelfs also says that the second generation of Atheros chips, which are currently shipping, doubled the range of the first, and he expects the range to increase again in the chips to come from the third generation later this year.

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