Microsoft taps Intersil chip for wireless LAN hardware

Microsoft Corp. plans to build a line of home wireless LAN networking products it announced last week around chip sets manufactured by Intersil Corp. with Microsoft-branded hardware actually manufactured by Accton Technology Corp., Computerworld has learned.

Sources familiar with the project who declined to be identified confirmed Microsoft's plans. John Allen, a spokesman for Irvine, Calif.-based Intersil, referred questions about the deal to Microsoft.

"That's something you need to take up with Microsoft," Allen said. "We can't say anything about what we do for our customers."

A Microsoft spokeswoman didn't return calls for comment by deadline.

The decision marks a shift from Microsoft's long-standing relationship with Intel Corp., which has developed the chips that power Microsoft's desktop and server software. "If Microsoft gets into this market in a big way, this could be huge for Intersil," said Weston Henderek, an analyst at ARS Inc. in La Jolla, Calif.

Wireless LAN cards and access points are selling at the rate of 1.5 million per month. Research firm IDC in Framingham, Mass., estimates the total value of the wireless LAN market will increase to US$3.7 billion by 2006, with a total installed base of 100 million units.

Wireless LAN products operating under the Wi-Fi, or 802.11b, standard provide users with 11M bit/sec. connectivity, while products operating under the 802.11a standard offer data rates of 54M bit/sec. While Microsoft said it plans to sell products based on the 802.11b standard, both Intersil and Singapore-based Accton also offer an 802.11a line of products, providing an easy future migration path for Microsoft.

Chris Kozup, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Boston, said that Microsoft's entry into the wireless LAN hardware market proves that an already booming market could grow even more if plans for a nationwide public access wireless LAN network pan out.

But widespread growth of the home and public-access wireless LAN markets will only mean more headaches for enterprise IT managers, who will have to continue to battle access points set up without their knowledge by individual employees, Kozup said.

Enterprise IT managers will also have to scramble to integrate home and road wireless LAN use with corporate networks, Kozup added.

While Microsoft has declined to provide details of its Wi-Fi product line until its introduction this fall, a short list of its products that have already gained Wi-Fi certification has been posted on the Web site operated by the Wireless Ethernet Compatability Alliance (WECA).

The WECA site shows that Microsoft has already obtained industry standard certification for a home networking access point/router, a home networking PC card and a home networking USB adopter.

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Bob Brewin

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