Wi-Fi at the speed of Ethernet?

SAN FRANCISCO (11/20/2003) - Just when you felt sure the fastest wireless networks move data at 54 megabits per second, Netgear Inc. introduces a wireless firewall router and PC Card that it says will transfer data at 108 mbps--speedier than 100-mbps ethernet.

The WGT624 router and WG511T PC Card, both based on the 54-mbps 802.11g standard, boost performance by using compression and by simultaneously broadcasting over 2 of the 11 channels in the 2.4-GHz band that 802.11b and 802.11g products use.

But just as obstructions, distance, and encryption prevent an 802.11g network from truly moving data at 54 mbps, Netgear's new line doesn't work at anything like 108 mbps.

Typically, 802.11g networks perform at 10 to 15 mbps. In my tests, Netgear's 108-mbps products succeeded in moving data at up to 24 mbps, roughly twice the rate of 802.11g products but still substantially lower than my 100-mbps-rated ethernet network's maximum real download speed of about 40 mbps.

When configured for 108-mbps mode, the shipping base station cannot handle traffic from 802.11b or 802.11g wireless cards. By year's end, however, Netgear plans to have released a firmware upgrade that will allow the base station to operate automatically in mixed environments, albeit at significantly slower speeds. (Meanwhile, D-Link has announced a similar, free firmware upgrade that will enable its Xtreme G 802.11g line to match the Netgear's nominal 108-mbps transfer speeds.)

With current street prices for the WGT624 base station hovering around US$130 and the PC Card going for about $75, Netgear's 108-mbps line costs about 20 percent more than comparable 802.11g products. But if you're upgrading from 11-mbps 802.11b, the performance gains are appealing.

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