Microsoft might lighten Wi-Fi's load: News.com's Ben Charny reports that Microsoft may offload some silicon functions from a Wi-Fi access point to the host computer. This seems misguided. The article cites $500 to $1,000 for an AP, which it calls by another term, but those of us building systems know that inexpensive APs are available for well under $150. The more expensive price tag is for systems that offer more processor power and more features in firmware, and typically a better radio coverage profile (more even and often more expansive).
Intel made a similar announcement last week about their progress in developing software-based Wi-Fi; the article in EE Times quotes an Intel manager stating that prices could be reduced from $250 to $100 for a consumer AP. Where are they living? Have they forgotten about Taiwan Inc. already? (Most of the inexpensive gear is being manufactured in Taiwan, which is also well on its way to undercutting the chipset makers, which will cause costs to further plunge.)
There's a long history of computer makers, especially Intel coupled with Microsoft, wanting to offload processing from peripherals and cards into the host. At the same time, though, the sophistication, speed, and cost efficiency of dedicated silicon increases. As both 802.11b/g and 802.11a inexorably march towards a single chip solution -- I interviewed a firm making Wi-Fi gear that can do everything but the MAC in one chip already -- offloading to host computation won't be necessary. The one exception could be AES encryption which, if employed as part of the IEEE solution for link security, currently requires a dedicated chip, increasing power usage.
A related issue is Quality of Service (QoS), sometimes referred to as scheduling. Can you ensure that the PC always has the cycles available to devote to the Wi-Fi computation? No, not in today's OS, which is not a real-time OS (RTOS) in which live events must interrupt and be part of the prioritization of tasks. Linux took a step in this direction recently by incorporating kernel-level interrupts in its source tree to improve interactive apps running on top of the kernel, like graphical user interfaces.
Intel cleared UK hurdles for 802.11a last month: ZDNet reported March 11 (and I missed) that Intel has been cleared to sell 802.11a equipment with the 802.11h modifications in the UK. Only four of eight channels available will be legal, according to the article. The article also notes that although the 802.11h standards are being incorporated, it's expected that the h designation will drop off. I doubt this as it produces market confusion. Likewise, when the Wi-Fi5 term is officially adopted with accompanying certification programs by WECA, if Wi-Fi5 doesn't include h (which is likely), that will weaken the brand's initial impact, especially in non-US countries in which h will be a required modification.
If you're wondering why this site appears more like radio silence than radio news in the last few weeks, it's due to my finishing up co-authoring a 900-page book on Adobe GoLive 6, an exciting product entirely unrelated to Wi-Fi. (Except that I and my co-author are using a lot of Wi-Fi in our production process.)
Pent-up news is starting to burst the seams of the Wi-Fi smokehouse, in which I carefully age and rotate stories. The normal flow of news and analysis should resume within a week or so as the book heads off to the printers, and my circuits are once again irrevocably committed to calculating the ultimate answer to life, the universe, and IEEE specs.