CES - Wi-Fi maturing as other networking options emerge

Companies at CES debuting cheaper 802.11n gear, plus options for adding the faster standard without getting rid of your existing equipment.

Netgear showed a RangeMax Dual Band Wireless-N router that will operate on both spectrum simultaneously, giving you two networks in your house at once. The company expects to ship the router, which uses eight internal antennas, at the end of February for US$129. Linksys and D-Link also have dual-band routers available or shipping soon.

Atheros' McFarland cautions against assuming that 802.11g gear will disappear entirely, though. The chip manufacturer continues to find ways to make 11g less expensive to build into equipment and McFarland said the technology is finding a new life in supercheap notebooks like the Asus Eee PC. Many small, cheap laptops like the Eee and the Intel Classmate will be sold in developing nations overseas and McFarland believes that many users there will be happy to stick with 802.11g.

Powerline networking

And wi-fi isn't the only game in town. Powerline networking based on the HomePlug AV standard is becoming more and more prevalent. HomePlug AV has a theoretical maximum speed of 200 mbps. While you won't really see those speeds in real-world use, it is fast enough to transmit high definition video. All the major networking companies have powerline adapters, small boxes you plug into an outlet and attach by ethernet to your router on one end and to a PC or other device on the other. Zyxel even offers a router with built-in powerline support. The US$135 NBG318S also supports wi-fi and ethernet networking.

Later this year, Netgear expects to start selling plastic optical fiber adapters for creating a less obtrusive wired network. Plastic optical fiber cable is about a third the size of a telephone line and can be easily cut to the right length. It's so small that you can easily tuck it behind a baseboard or under carpets or fish it through a hole in a wall. Adapters on either end will accept the cable and plug into a standard ethernet port. Netgear officials say the cable's throughput is actually better than standard ethernet.

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