Linksys speeds up 802.11g lineup

Linksys Group has released a line of 802.11g products aimed at small business and home users. The products are designed to give users more power for their wireless LANs.

The Wireless-G with SpeedBooster product line is backward compatible with existing 802.11b and 802.11g products, according to Linksys. The new line adds more security options, including parental control features for home users. Linksys claims its SpeedBooster technology can enhance network performance by up to 35 percent.

The SpeedBooster line, now available, includes a Wireless-G Router (model WRT54GS) priced at US$130; the PC Card (model WPC54GS), US$100; and PCI Adapter (model WMP54GS), also US$100.

Speed enhancements

The speed enhancement technology, SpeedBooster, is built on Broadcom's Afterburner technology, according to Linksys.

The company says it can increase by as much as 70 percent the aggregate throughput performance of a mixed wireless network that involves both 802.11b and 802.11g products, so the overall performance is enhanced no matter what wireless device is running. The boost comes partly because SpeedBooster products minimize overhead communication between data transmissions, Linksys representatives say.

Home networks typically don't hit the maximum throughput that most wireless networks are capable of. For example, 802.11g can connect wireless devices at up to 54 megabits per second; but most users see about 20 mbps to 25 mbps depending on the layout of their home or the materials used in the walls and floors.

In tests conducted by the company and by independent organizations, a wireless network using the new router and new plug-in cards was able to handle a bandwidth of about 34 mbps, says Mike Wagner, Linksys director of marketing. The company saw an increase in performance of about 20 percent if only one of the new products was used on a wireless network, he adds.

Linksys also emphasizes that the Broadcom technology follows a "good neighbor" approach designed to limit interference with other wireless networks nearby. The products stay within 20 MHz (on channel 6) of the 2.4-GHz frequency band to help limit potential interference with other devices in that band. Linksys notes that several countries restrict use of wireless products that exceed the 20 MHz rule.

Other speed options

Users of wireless products based on Atheros Communications's Super G technology can now download a software update that lets their networks toggle between two wireless performance modes that offer up to 40 mbps and 60 mbps of bandwidth, says Colin Mcnabb, vice president of marketing and business development for Atheros. The 60 mbps mode, called Dynamic Turbo, uses a controversial technique called channel bonding that Broadcom and some independent testers claim impedes performance of neighboring wireless networks based on other technologies.

With the new software, an Atheros chip set scans other wireless channels for traffic and determines whether to enable the channel-bonding mode based on the traffic levels, Mcnabb says. He says Atheros has had this in the works, and did not add it in response to Broadcom's claims about interference.

Atheros does not believe its Super G technology causes interference problems in real-world conditions, Mcnabb says. However, the new adaptive technology will enable the chip set to sometimes avoid the channel bonding technique.

Only a few wireless home networks in the United States and Europe can take advantage of faster bandwidth, even before the latest improvements in networking technology. Cable modem connection speeds average about 3 mbps and DSL connections are even slower, says Will Strauss, principal analyst with Forward Concepts.

Under some conditions, such as a home peer-to-peer network, the improved bandwidth delivered by the new products might help performance, Strauss says. Otherwise, home users don't need bandwidth that far exceeds the bottleneck created by their Internet connection, he says.

"We're seeing the market continuing to grow as prices come down. If you can't distinguish your products on price, you do it on performance" even if that performance is beyond the reach of most consumers, Strauss adds.

New security features

The Wireless-G Router with SpeedBooster enhances security in several features, according to Linksys. It supports Wi-Fi Protected Access security, provides a firewall, and applies IEEE security protocol 802.1x authentication and authorization (which uses a handshake protocol to pass data to authentication servers, for better security).

WPA security, endorsed by the Wi-Fi Alliance, improves on the encryption provided in the Wired Equivalent Privacy standard built into most Wi-Fi products. Linksys says the Wi-Fi Alliance is testing its router for certification as compliant with the new standard.

The new Parental Control Service was designed and developed with Netopia, and is intended to make it easy to implement controls on kids' surfing habits. It is available in a 30-day trial version.

Parents can design user profiles that designate specific times of the day and week for access and set restrictions for such major Internet applications as browsers, e-mail, chat, and instant messaging. Web site access is managed through 16 Web content categories, and Web filtering is based on millions of URL classifications within several dozen categories. Parents can also generate online usage reports. The filters are updated regularly for subscribers. Customers who sign up for the service within 15 days of testing the trial version can get special rates of US$25 for six months, $40 for a year, and $60 for two years.

Tom Krazit of the IDG News Service contributed to this report.

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