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Air Time: Airgo's True MIMO Gen3: Breaking New Ground in Wireless Performance

As is the case with most information technologies, performance thresholds
have played an important role in driving the wireless network market. It wasn't
that long ago that breaking the one-megabit performance barrier was viewed
as a significant technical event. And when 802.11b surpassed the 10-megabit
data rate provided by Ethernet, wireless LANs gained significant market
credibility (even though actual throughput was much lower than Ethernet).
The latest barrier to be broken by the wireless engineering team at Airgo
Networks is 100-megabit Fast Ethernet, the industry standard network
technology connecting most desktop computers to home and enterprise
networks.

Yes, we've seen a number of vendors offer wireless networking that
purportedly runs at speeds in excess of 100 megabits. But the throughput of
these systems is less than half that number, making it significantly slower than
Fast Ethernet in real-world environments. Plus, the added performance
sometimes comes at the expense of compatibility with standards-based
802.11. Still, pushing the performance window is good business, and it has been
proven to move boxes through the retail channel.

Don't confuse previous high-performance wireless technology with that offered
by Airgo. The upstart wireless chip developer is breaking new ground with
radio-based networking that defies conventional wireless wisdom and sets the
stage for future improvements in performance of all wireless systems, from the
home to the enterprise to the metropolis. Airgo's latest True MIMO Gen3
product offering, sampling in volume today and expected to find its way into
shipping products by year-end, touts a maximum data rate of 240 megabits
per second and sustainable TCP throughput in excess of 120 Mbps. That's
twice as fast as the company's second-generation chip and faster, using real-
world applications, than Fast Ethernet. If that's not enough, how does 15%
cheaper and 20% more power efficient. It's the hottest wireless technology
currently available and it foretells a very interesting future.

Airgo's primary markets are consumers and small to medium offices, a smart
business decision that leverages mass-market product volumes. I've long
argued that the vast majority of home users don't really need this level of
performance. After all, most are sharing a broadband connection that tops
out at 5 Mbps best case. Still, given the choice, many consumers will opt for
faster rather than slower, provided the additional cost is modest. If past
trends are any indication, look for $100 routers built around True MIMO Gen3
sometime in 2006.

While consumers may not need 120 megabits of throughput, what they do need
is acceptable performance with transmission range that covers an entire home
or small office. First, while plain old Wi-Fi may indeed be adequate if you are
physically located in close proximity to your AP, it's not unusual to see
Wi-Fi's rate reduction algorithms kick in, dropping effective throughput to
well under a megabit per second. In addition to offering hot-rod performance,
Airgo's MIMO technology leverages the natural effects of multi-path
interference, maintaining high-speed connections at much longer range.
According to Airgo, their real-world testing has shown that in a home
environment where the wireless AP is 4 rooms away from the client, traditional
802.11g systems fall back to link rates of 2 megabits per second while True
MIMO Gen3 maintains a link rate of almost 100 megabits per second. That's
good news for home users as well as users in small and branch offices, where
maximizing wireless coverage is often a high priority.