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Atheros Ups The WLAN Ante

Should Atheros wait for the IEEE to develop standards innovations and withhold features that solve real-world problems?

Despite healthy market competition from Broadcom, Intel, Agere, TI and others, Atheros continues to lead the market, enhancing its products' functionality while walking that fine line between adherence to standards and proprietary technology. The new Atheros silicon delivers significant improvements in power efficiency, extended transmission range and management functionality, but to realize some of the benefits, you need Atheros chips on the client as well as in the access point.

One facet of this chip, Atheros' XR, purportedly doubles the coverage area for 802.11a systems by improving the system's receive sensitivity by more than 20 dB. But if equipment on the other end of the connection isn't Atheros-based, the system drops back to pure 802.11.

Also, Atheros announced that its new chips would support the company's Super A/G technology, introduced last year. By using channel bonding and compression, Super A/G systems reportedly achieve TCP throughput of up to 90 Mbps, roughly equivalent to Fast Ethernet. As you might suspect, this feature is proprietary, too.

These outside-the-standard innovations have competitors, including Intel, crying foul, though they need to be careful lest we hold them to the same business standard in all their product offerings. Should Atheros wait for the IEEE to develop standards innovations and withhold features that solve real-world problems? After spending 15 years managing IT, I'm as committed to standards as anyone, but if you give me that choice, I'll swallow hard and take the proprietary enhancements, especially if it's the only way to solve a significant problem.

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