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The key to Intel Corp.'s (Nasdaq: INTC) new Centrino wireless LAN chip is not its ability to support the major flavors of 802.11 available today, but rather the software that is bundled with the chip.

The new, three-part PRO/Wireless 2915ABG Network Connection chipset is Intel's first to support 802.11a (54 Mbit/s over 5GHz), b (11 Mbit/s over 2.4GHz) and g (54 Mbit/s over 2.4GHz). Price is $27 each, when sold in volumes of 10,000 units.

"That's a little high," notes Craig Mathias, principal at analyst and consultancy firm the Farpoint Group. But most industry watchers don't consider it a huge issue for a firm like Intel, which can depend on some degree of brand loyalty.

The code that's bundled with the product is really the key here, Mathias suggests: "I'm impressed with the software."

The new Centrino package comes with software that supports 802.11i security and quality-of-service extensions. QOS is particularly important for enterprises looking to implement voice-over-WLAN and other multimedia services that require traffic prioritization (see Is 802.11 Ready for VOIP?).

Intel's major rivals on the WiFi chip scene at the moment are Atheros Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: ATHR) and Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM), which have long offered multimode chipsets and their own speed and software additions to basic chipsets.

"It's going to be software and high-level functionality that makes the difference now," says Mathias. "That's true until 802.11n, of course."

802.11n is – of course – the next speed jump for the wireless LAN standard (see IEEE Plots Speedier WLAN). And although Intel has traditionally been rather late to market with 802.11 chips compared to its rivals, the firm is an active member of one the two main groups looking to define the new standard (see 802.11n Slapfest Ahead).

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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