Intersil Turns to Cisco to Help Kick-start 802.11g

By Bob Liu

February 21, 2002

Intersil, Cisco to jointly develop WLAN client adapter reference designs based on IEEE 802.11g draft standard.

In the hope of kick-starting the deployment of the newest wireless local area networking (WLAN) specification known as 802.11g, Intersil said Thursday that it partnered with enterprise networking leader Cisco Systems Inc. to develop high-speed WLAN client adapter reference designs that comply with the in-progress Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11g draft standard.

The news comes at a time when WLAN products based on another high-speed specification, 802.11a, are already on store shelves. But because 802.11a is not backwards-compatible to existing Wi-Fi (802.11b) certified products, no clear product roadmap has yet been established that would let end users know about the upgrade path of the current 802.11b standard.

Under the new alliance, Intersil and Cisco will jointly develop a reference design for the two companies to take to third party original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The reference design, embodied in a chipset delivered by Intersil, will incorporate Cisco's enhanced security and network support features as well as Intersil's high-rate 2.4 GHz Prism GT chipset. Intersil will contribute its physical layer (PHY) technology while Cisco will provide its media access control (MAC) architecture and enterprise-class client software feature set.

"It establishes .11g as the next enterprise product," said Chris Henningson, vice president of marketing at Intersil.

Cisco is the leading supplier of enterprise networking equipment accounting for 25 percent of the industry's total revenue and as much as 32 percent of unit sales, according to analysts. In the fourth quarter alone, Cisco had 12 percent of all network interface card (NIC) and access point (AP) shipments, said Gemma Paulo, analyst at Cahners In-stat.

"They [Cisco] set the standard in the enterprise," explained Navin Sabharwal, vice president at Allied Business Intelligence. By getting them to work on deploying .11g solutions, Intersil is making a statement that it has a powerhouse vendor in its .11g camp. "Cisco is saying in the short- to medium-term .11g is the way to go."

Intersil officials said they hope to have a reference design by the summer, with first generation products set to transmit data at speeds of 36 megabits per second (Mbps) and follow-up designs set at 54 Mbps. 802.11b only transmits at 11 Mbps.

To be sure, using solutions based on .11g, which employ the same 2.4 GHz spectrum band that Wi-Fi products use, is merely one of two paths of migration for 802.11b products. The other route is for the dual-band solutions that would support .11b as well as .11a, which broadcasts data through the 5 GHz band.

"There are dual mode solutions but that is not a natural upgrade path. .11b to .11g is theoretically a pure upgrade. But ultimately, what the consumer cares about is can they connect to the existing infrastructure with their client device. If a consumer has a solution which is supporting multiple protocols, by switching between them, that's relatively seemless to the end user," Sabharwal said.

There are currently no dual-mode products on the market, Sabharwal said.

802.11g became a draft standard in November after months of bickering amongst IEEE members. Although its specifications have been established, it won't become an official IEEE standard until early next year.

Sabharwal warned, however, that product certification will also delay rollout and certified 802.11g products may not make it onto store shelves until the middle of 2003.

"This is just a reference design. You can read into it as much as you want or as little as you want," he added.



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