Wireless LAN vendor NetGear this week begins shipping what it says is the first network interface card that can run on three different kinds of wireless LANs.
The WAG5111 is a PC Card adapter that has two radios: a 2.4-GHz radio for IEEE 802.11b and the not-yet-ratified 802.11g nets, and a 5-GHz radio for 802.11a. The lower frequency supports data rates of 11M bit/sec for 11b and 54M bit/sec for llg, while the higher frequency runs the 11a data rate of 54M bit/sec, and offers eight non-overlapping channels compared to three for the lower-frequency standards.
With the card, enterprise wireless users can match the frequency of whatever access points have been installed at work, at home, or in a growing number of public access wireless hot spots in airports, cafes, and so on. Most corporate wireless LANs use 11b, but 11a appears in areas with lots of users or high bandwidth demands.
It's because of the co-existence of this mix of wireless LAN standards that vendors are creating these dual-frequency, usually called dual-mode, client cards.
The IEEE has not yet formally approved the 11g proposal as a standard, but WLAN vendors have just started introducing access points and adapters based on it. NetGear's PC card, as other brands, is based on the draft 11g standard, which is expected to be finalized later in 2003.
To complicate things even more, NetGear plans to issue new firmware later this year to boost the 11g data rate to 108M bit/sec. But this proprietary "turbo mode" will only work when both the clients and access points are NetGear products with the new firmware.
The WAG 5111 uses 152-bit Wireless Equivalent Protocol (WEP) encryption - but because of the known weaknesses of WEP, most enterprises are unlikely to rely on this alone. NetGear will use the Wireless Protected Access algorithms, which are early implementations of several important WEP improvements and sponsored by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Eventually, NetGear will incorporate into its products the much more powerful Advanced Encryption System (AES).
The new card uses the Atheros AR5001X wireless LAN chipset. According to NetGear, the Dual Band PC Card automatically roams among 802.11a, 802.11g, and 802.11b networks, while providing an option to only enable roaming in either 802.11a or 802.11b/g networks. The 32-bit WAG511 CardBus adapter has a program to simplify setup and use.
A separate included application, NetGear Wireless LAN Manager, lets users set profiles for specific wireless LAN settings in different locations, such as the home, corporate headquarters or a branch office. This software also creates a listing of all available wireless access points in a given area.
The WAG511 Dual Band 802.11a/b/g PC Card has a list price of US$157, a three-year warranty, and round-the-clock technical support.