Intel Boosts Centrino for Enterprise

By Michael Singer

August 26, 2004

The chipmaking giant adds advanced security features and QoS support for the 'tri-band' chipset.

Intel continued its "Unwired" mantra by announcing an upcoming Centrino chipset that supports three major Wi-Fi connectivity standards: 802.11b, 802.11g and now 802.11a. The so-called "tri-band" solution promises high-speed bandwidth, less interference, and quicker connections.

The company said the PRO/Wireless 2915ABG Network Connection hardware is comprised of a Pentium M chip, an Intel 855 chipset, and support for the networking technology. It should start appearing in notebooks beginning in September, carrying a bulk price tag of $27 in amounts of 1,000. The mini-PCI adapter can also be used with existing Intel Pentium M systems, such as the original Bulverde processor and the PRO/Wireless 2200b/g card, so upgrading doesn't require a completely new laptop.

In addition to the hardware, Intel is also including its PROSet/Wireless software. The update activates the 802.11i (security) and 802.11e (Quality of Service) already found in Intel's silicon. The technology currently supports Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and WEP security, and is expected to support WPA2 when available.

The software also includes detection technology developed by Intel and Cisco's Linksys division. The technology lets customers with the new PROSet/Wireless software locate an unconfigured Linksys access point, then guides them through a short setup process.

"This is about making wireless computing as manageable and secure as wired computing," Jim Johnson, vice president of Intel's communications group, said during a webcast.

While analysts like Bob Wheeler of market research firm Linley Group said Intel's announcement is hardly earth-shattering, it is significant for corporations looking to deploy wireless networks.

"The primary benefits of .11a networks are that you get to move to 5 gigahertz, which is no faster than a .11g network, but there are a lot more channels available, so you can get more of them operating simultaneously," Wheeler told internetnews.com. "The other benefit is that it does not interfere with wireless phones or microwaves. This is more beneficial for the home user, but I think for a large corporation, .11a will be a requirement going forward. Cisco's recent quarter showed that wireless networking is picking up at this time, and Linksys' ABG support supports that."

As for .11a products, Intel has been lagging behind rivals Atheros , which is working on its third generation of .11a hardware; and Broadcom , which has been selling .11a products for nearly a year.

Linley Group's Wheeler also points out that while Intel's home-grown solution could run consumers about $10 more than an .11a solution from Broadcom or Atheros, corporations are more inclined to pay an extra few dollars for the .11a capabilities up front as a way of future-proofing.

"We saw this with Gigabit Ethernet," Wheeler said. "Nobody really needs it right now, but they might need it someday, and so they buy it up front when making desktop purchases. And when it comes to a corporate contract, the large OEMs like Dell will absorb some of the cost, so the price difference passed on to the client is barely noticeable. If you or I order Intel's hardware off the Web, we would see that price difference."

Still, Intel is counting on its Centrino branding campaign to score some points. According to research from analyst firm Pyramid Research (contracted by Intel), there could be as many as 700 million Wi-Fi users by 2007.

"It is all a branding issue," Wheeler said. "And there is a contingent of people really buying into Centrino."

Originally published on .

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