CES - Linksys hopes new designs, low prices boost 802.11n sales

New routers have sleek cases, no external antennas and start at US$100.

With a sleek new antenna-less design and one router selling for less than US$100, Linksys hopes to breathe new life into what they admit have been disappointing sales of 802.11n products.

The Ultra RangePlus Wireless-N Broadband Router (WRT160N) that Linksys introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Monday sells for US$99 and has no external antennas.

The company says it managed to build the antennas internally without sacrificing performance. (They say focus group participants told them that external antennas felt antiquated.) The router also has a sleek new design with a case that's slimmer in the middle than at the sides. A US$129 version, the WRT310N is largely the same, but features a gigabit ethernet connection instead of the 10/100 connection on the 160N.

The 802.11n technology boosts wireless networking speeds to something close to wired speeds. But over the last year, 802.11n products accounted for only 36 percent of revenue for networking firms, according to Linksys spokeswoman Karen Sohl.

The new generation products were more expensive than products using the older 802.11g spec. And because the technology has not yet been ratified and early n products from different manufacturers had trouble working together, some consumers may have felt the technology was too immature to be trusted.

But Linksys officials hope that the ratification of the technology, expected to happen mid-year, and the falling prices of 11n products will convince more buyers to take the plunge.

Simpler Setup

Linksys is also hoping to make setting up and maintaining a network simpler. Their products include a new four-step, animated setup guide that helps users establish their network name and password and choose a level of security.

They also showed off another program which they say they will make available for all their 802.11n routers in the first quarter of this year. That program, similar to a program from Network Magic, produces a visual diagram of your network, with icons representing laptops, printers, hard drives and more. It shows the status of those devices and will let you exclude devices that are using your network without your permission.

Other networking products that Linksys unveiled include dual-band wireless adapters for PCs, laptops and gaming consoles. The adapters can use either the 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz spectrum. The 5 GHz spectrum is less crowded and includes more non-overlapping channels, making it a good choice for sending video or gaming data that you want to make sure isn't broken up by interference.

The laptop adapter, WEC600N (US$80), uses the new express card format. The US$80 PC adapter, WUSB600N, uses a USB connection. The gaming adapter is the US$90 WGA600N.

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