Linksys: 11n for Home, Business

By Eric Griffith

April 24, 2006

The leading consumer WLAN vendor announces plans for draft 802.11n products for home networks, and promises business-class products to come.

Cisco's Linksys division announced its plans for making 802.11n products this morning. The initial line of products, dubbed Wireless-N, will include a broadband router (model WRT300N, pictured) and a PC Card notebook adapter (Model WPC300N).

linksy_wrt300n.jpgThe company says it held off announcing products after competitors Buffalo Technology, D-Link, and Netgear so its claim of "immediate availability" would be true — they say that the products are selling today on BestBuy.com as an exclusive, and will ship immediately when purchased.

Retail price for the routers is $150, and that's the price BestBuy.com is using. The PC Card is $120.

This is just the beginning of what Linksys plans to offer supporting the draft of the 802.11n specification, which was agreed on in the IEEE only recently.

"The plan is to have a line of consumer products for retail, and small business products for VARs in the channel," says Malachy Moynihan, Vice President and General Manager of Home Networking at Linksys. He says the latter will have slightly different features that are ideal for small business. No word yet on when those products will ship or what the features will be.

What is Linksys doing to stand out from the pack? "Our first ambition is to meet the draft standard: that's important for us," says Moynihan. He admits that it's too early to talk about compatibility with other 11n products -- and the Wireless-N products aren't Wi-Fi Certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance for interoperability even with existing 802.11b/g networks, at least not yet.

Based on internal testing, Linksys is confident that the Wireless-N products will operate with 802.11b/g client systems at rates faster than existing products.

Standard router features of the WRT300N include Wi-Fi Protected Access for encryption, DHCP server, VPN pass-through, Stateful Packet Inspection firewall and more.

"We will continue to evolve the product line over the coming months, but early products are designed to be a really good extension of the technology in the draft standard," Moynihan says.

This constant evolution is part of why Linksys doesn't like to comment on what chipsets it uses — it wouldn't confirm what chips are in these products — because it may change them as new versions of the WRT300N are released. They would confirm only that they are working with all three of the major chip vendors making 802.11n chips for infrastructure equipment: Atheros, Broadcom and Marvell (three of the companies that helped push the 802.11n spec to its current status after many in-fighting delays in the standards process).  

Upgradeability, also a touchy subject since 802.11n is still in the early stages, isn't guaranteed to the final specification. Moynihan doubts any chip vendor or equipment manufacturer will ever be able to make that claim. "The final spec will have thousands of options and no one may ever build a product that has all the options," he says.

As for upgradeability in the short term, as in user hacks that have become very popular with downloadable firmware for the Linux-based Linksys Wireless-G routers, Linksys confirms that this first generation of Wireless-N is also Linux-based, and the company was committed to have the General Public License (GPL) code available today.



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