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Comms chips

Centrino À Go Go

4:45 PM -- There's a bit of a debate going on about exactly when the next-gen wireless LAN standard, 802.11n, will finally get ratified. While some vendors are still saying that it will be ratified by this summer time, Glenn Fleishman over at the trusty Wi-Fi Networking News blog says that it will now happen in October. That's October 2008.

Here's the thing: I'm starting to think that the actual ratification will be little more than an interesting footnote in the lengthening history of WLAN. Which is ironic, given how much I (and others) have written on the process since it started.

Why? Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) has just unveiled its "pre-n" Centrino. Check back on Intel's previous 802.11 chipset launches -- they tend to not put anything out until the specification is very stable and ready. (See Intel Goes MIMO.)

Intel also has massive market presence and the budget to back it up. There's still plenty of people who think "Pentium" when they think procressors, and "Centrino" is synonymous with WiFi for many. Make no mistake, Intel will help to drive this market for all involved in it, especially the access point vendors working on its "Connect With Centrino" program.

For sure, the chipmaker is stuffing its data rate bra with some puffed-up vital statistics for the new silicon. Intel says that the new Centrino with be up to five times faster than current chipsets -- that's because industry now expects 802.11n to hit data rates of up to 600 Mbit/s.

Yeah, right.

Anyone that's actually used WiFi will know that figure gets quickly deflated in the real world. Still, that's likely to mean a perky 100-200 Mbit/s in the wild. Enough for home users to think about some serious video streaming and enterprises to start considering WiFi VOIP for real.

I believe that Intel's launch could be the real milestone in next-generation wireless LAN, even more so than Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM)'s recent buyout of Airgo. It means it's time to get real about 802.11n, even before the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) has finished the absurdly drawn-out ratification process.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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