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Upgrading - 11g jumps to the head of the line

Updated June 30, 2003

So you're sold on WPA and want to upgrade your wireless LAN ASAP! Where do you start?

Whether you're an "enterprise" or SOHO user, there are three basic steps:

1) Find out whether your access point or wireless router is WPA-capable, or if there is a firmware upgrade available.

2) Find out whether your wireless client adapter(s) is WPA-capable, or if there is a driver upgrade available.

3) Find out whether you'll need to purchase a "supplicant" application for your wireless client.

Steps 1 and 2 are simple in theory, but are turning out to a significant challenge for the entire food chain of wireless LAN related manufacturers. Since most consumer networking gear comes from a network of OEM and ODMs in Taiwan, those companies must first absorb the code from the wireless chip companies and then grind out the driver and firmware updates for their customers.

This is no small task, given the 700+ Wi-Fi certified products that the Alliance says are available today, not to mention the hundreds of uncertified products. Those updates must then be distributed to the networking gear companies, who then execute some sort of QA/acceptance process (let's hope), and finally make the drivers available for download.

So far, it looks like 802.11g-based products are at the head of the WPA-upgrade line. Since manufacturers have a vested interest in keeping the sales of this latest version of WLAN products flying off the shelves, this first-availabilitiy should come as no surprise. But what is surprising is that Broadcom-based products seem to be getting the most early WPA upgrades, even though Intersil released WPA code to its customers in January for its 11b PRISM 2.5, and March for its 11g GT and 11a/b/g Duette chipsets.

Table 1 shows the WPA updates available for Broadcom-based products at the time this article was written:


- F5D7130 Access Point
- F5D7230-4 Router
- F5D7010 CardBus client
- F5D7000 PCI client

Buffalo Technology
- WBRG54 router
- WLI-CB-G54 CardBus client
- WLI-CB-G54A CardBus client

- WPC54G CardBus client
- WRT54G router

Table 1: Broadcom-based 802.11g WPA-capable products

Updated August 17, 2003
Table 2
shows similar info for Intersil-based products. Note that no Intersil-based WPA-capable 11g clients were available at the time this article was written. The table originally showed NETGEAR as having WPA upgrades, but since they've yet to make WPA available on any of their products, I've removed them.

- SMC2804WBR Router
- SMC2802W EZ Connect 2.4GHz 54Mbps Wireless PCI Adapter
- SMC2835W EZ Connect 2.4GHz 54Mbps Wireless CardBus Adapter
Table 2: Intersil-based 802.11g WPA-capable products

As for the other major wireless chipmakers, Atheros told me that they released WPA code to its customers on May 31. But Atheros President and CEO Craig Barratt told me at April's Networld+Interop show that they would not be providing WPA on Atheros' first-generation 11a-only chipset, which has already been removed from production.

After I posted this article SMC also told me about its WPA upgrades for its Atheros-based a/b and a/b/g cards, which are now reflected in Table 3 below.

- SMC2335W EZ Connect 2.4GHz/5GHz Universal Wireless Cardbus Adapter
-SMC2336W-AG EZ Connect Universal 2.4GHz/5GHz 802.11a/g Wireless Cardbus Adapter
Table 3: Atheros-based 802.11g WPA-capable products

Agere Systems sent WPA Beta code to its customers earlier this year, and released production code to them in May. Agere says its first WPA-certfied Wi-Fi product will be available by the end of June.

I also asked TI about its WPA releases, but didn't receive a response.

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