Wireless LANs get big push at Comdex

LAS VEGAS'The subtitle of this year's Comdex show could be 'The Wireless Show.'

Much of the wireless action centered around 802.11 products.

Several California vendors'including D-Link Systems Inc. and Linksys Group, both of Irvine; NetGear Inc. of Santa Clara; Proxim Corp. of Sunnyvale; and SMC Networks Inc. of Irvine'announced that they are shipping access points that claim lab transmission rates of 54 Mbps in the 2.4-GHz band even before those specs are ratified as 802.11g.

Meanwhile, tried-and-true 802.11b is showing up in all sorts of places. Hewlett-Packard Corp.'s new $699 h5400 iPaq handheld has onboard 802.11b connectivity. By March, many vendors promised to sell 802.11b-enabled solid state memory cards for multifunction devices with a single Compact Flash card slot.

Access points that provide hot spots'areas where wireless network access is available'are also big at Comdex.

Proxim showed its new AP2500. The two-radio unit will let organizations give visitors Internet access without compromising security. Ken Haase, director of product marketing, said the device uses dynamic address translation to take a visitor's static IP address and translate it to an IP address assigned by the access point.

Intended for lobbies and conference rooms, the $1,095 device can be configured with two 802.11b radios or one 802.11a and one 802.11b radio for separating visitors by frequency.

Vendors also demonstrated a new wireless LAN security protocol known as WiFi Protected Access. WPA over the next year will replace the Wired Equivalent Privacy protocol, which vendors universally derided as barely offering security from hackers.

Dorothy Stanley, a system architect for chip maker Agere Systems Inc. of Allentown, Pa., said WPA will be optional at first. Interoperability testing of WPA-equipped products will start in February, she said.

Among the security specification's features is a provision for unique encryption keys for each packet of data, as opposed to a single key shared by many users for each transmission.

Meeting WPA security levels will require use of an authentication server that delivers encryption key information to an access point when it receives users' credentials, such as passwords or biometric data.

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