FCC Allows Intel/Proxim To Step On AirPort's Toes, Consumers To Lose

Yesterday, Apple and its wireless network partners lost their bid to stop the FCC from allowing an inferior wireless standard from becoming effective competition in the home networking market.

In May, "Intel, Motorola, Proxim and other technology firms that support a wireless standard called HomeRF [asked] the FCC to allow them to quadruple the speed of their wireless technology," reported CNET News.

HomeRF currently operates at about 2 megabits per second (mbps) as opposed to 11 mbps the 802.11B, or "Wi-Fi" standard Apple uses in its AirPort home networking device. Wi-Fi was developed by Lucent and is supported by 3Com and Cisco Systems as well.

Today, the FCC ruled that developers of HomeRF systems can crank up the performance levels of their standard to 8 mbps making the HomeRF standard competitive with Wi-Fi.

According to CNET news, "At stake is a piece of the emerging home networking market that is expected to grow from $600 million in 2000 to more than $5.7 billion by 2004, according to a recent study by Cahners In-Stat Group."

Supporters of the Wi-Fi standard, and of a third standard called Bluetooth, say that expanding the bandwidth for HomeRF will cause interference with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth if used in proximity to each other. All three standards use the 2.4 GHz portion of the radio spectrum. Bluetooth connects devices such as monitors and printers to PCs and is not in direct competition with HomeRF or Wi-Fi.

David Cohen, vice chair of the Wi-Fi organization called Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance and product manager for 3Comis wireless division was quoted by CNET News as complaining, "It (HomeRF) hops around on a narrow signal, but now if you take that narrow signal and widen it out, itis like a truck taking up several lanes, hopping around, squashing things in its path." Wi-Fi technology is "direct sequence" meaning is doesnit hop around like HomeRF, but more efficiently uses only a narrow signal.

Supporters of the HomeRF systems claim that the interference isnit too bad if the two standards are kept at a distance, besides they argue, consumers are likely to use one standard or another to network their homes, not both.

Enhanced HomeRF networking devices could begin to appear on the market as early as next year.