SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Six companies will use the IBC Conference on Personal and Local Wireless Network Solutions here this week to announce a consortium for wireless Ethernet compatibility. The Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA) will promote and certify interoperability for transceivers and network access points using the IEEE 802.11 wireless Ethernet standard.
The consortium positions IEEE 802.11 as a viable alternative to Bluetooth and HomeRF in the soon-to-explode market for wireless network products. "Wireless LANs are becoming prime time," said David Cohen of 3Com, who serves as vice chairman of the new consortium. Phil Bellanger of Aironet is chairman. Besides those two companies, other founding members include Intersil (formerly Harris Semiconductor), Lucent Technologies, Nokia and Symbol Technologies.
The consortium will test 802.11 wireless products for interoperability and provide a WECA logo for those that meet the spec. WECA will encourage users to think of 802.11 products as the desired wireless solution for enterprises and small businesses.
Though the alliance includes semiconductor and network service providers, WECA is encouraging wireless LAN providers, as well as computer system and software makers, to get involved.
Bluetooth-the wireless networking scheme promoted by Ericsson, Nokia and others-looks likely to grab most of the attention at the IBC conference. Advocates see Bluetooth providing virtual Internet connectivity for laptops and PDAs at hotels, airports and convention centers. Though it claims advantages over Bluetooth, "the IEEE 802.11 LAN will coexist and not stamp out other LANs," said Cohen.
Bluetooth is intended as a short-distance, low-power link between cell phones and laptop computers, but it won't readily connect with the "public infrastructure," Cohen said. The 802.11 scheme has higher power and will go longer distances, he said.
Moreover, Bluetooth uses a USB software stack, while 802.11 uses a full TCP/IP network stack, Cohen said. Thus, it may be more appropriate for wireless Internet access at hotels and convention centers than Bluetooth.
But perhaps because WECA founder Nokia is also a Bluetooth supporter, Cohen refused to categorize Bluetooth as a competitor. "There's a lot of support for Bluetooth. We're not against them. We're different," he said.
He did level some criticism against another wireless contender, HomeRF. "We do have issues with HomeRF," Cohen said. The 802.11 LAN is based on an existing standard, while HomeRF is a newly created one. The HomeRF specification provides a 1.6-Mbit/second data transfer rate between PCs and peripherals in the home, while 802.11 provides up to 11 Mbits/s, he said. If a business user brings home the laptop he uses in the office, does this mean he needs to switch LANs? Cohen asked.
Finally, Cohen claimed that 802.11 products are not too expensive for use at home. He pointed to Apple Computer's announcement of a wireless LAN-enabled portable, the iBook, for wireless home networks. Its 802.11 access port will list for $299, and its PC-card transceiver for $99, he said.
However, Benny Manny of Intel Corp., technical chairman of the HomeRF consortium, remained firm in his belief that 802.11 will not provide the voice-channel connectivity of his group's specification. The HomeRF spec supports up to four separate voice channels, he said, and provides both 802.11-like access for computers, peripherals and data sources, and DECT-like access for voice devices like cordless phones. Manny will present on behalf of the HomeRF consortium at this week's conference.