The positioning of the W-Fi alphabet is about to get a makeover as more home users start networking their entertainment devices. The product positioning to date, especially in North America and Europe, has been "802.11b/g is for consumers and 802.11a is for enterprise." Although the cost gap between .11b/g and .11a chipsets has been narrowing, vendor positioning has priced .11a devices much higher than .11b/g. (The exception to this is the Japanese market.)
In an article in our August issue ( www.broadbandhomecentral.com/report/backissues/Report0408_7.html ) we described Atheros chips that could underlie consumer "tri-mode" devices (a/b/g). Now we're starting to see the products based on such chips.
Linksys recently announced a line of 802.11a/b/g routers and clients which embody the new mindset: "802.11b/g is for data and 802.11a is for entertainment." The consumer who wants it all should get tri-mode devices supporting both data and the more demanding entertainment applications such as video.
Numerous sources have told us that we'll see a multitude of tri-mode wireless consumer entertainment devices at the upcoming Consumer Electronics Show in January. There are multiple reasons for this. The 5 GHz spectrum used for 11a has many more channels than 11b/g and does not suffer the overcrowding problems in the 2.4 GHz band: interference from microwaves, portable phones and neighbors. New chip developments have improved the range of 11a devices.
One of the key influencers is that player from Redmond. In Media Center 2005, Microsoft is promoting the use of 802.11a to carry video from your Media Center PC to your TV. Their FAQs page makes this explicit. In answer to the question "“How do I connect my Media Center Extender to my Media Center PC?” Microsoft provides a very clear answer: "There are two main ways—via an Ethernet wired or a wireless connection. The wireless connection works best on 802.11a home networks.”
It's usually pretty safe to bet on what Microsoft has decided to do.