This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Media Grok email newsletter. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

Untangling the Wireless Ruling
Sep 01 2000 12:00 AM PDT

The FCC issued a ruling that takes the shackles off a method of transmitting data without wires. The agency hopes the result will be more consumer choices and falling prices for wireless home networking and multimedia gear. The press coverage largely got this point across, but the stories could be confusing, especially if you read more than one of them.

The problem is that in this market for low-power, local wireless data transmission, the players, the technologies and the industry groups all go by a variety of names, nicknames and acronyms. Press accounts tended to simplify their coverage by picking one from column A and one from column B.

Herewith Grok's handy guide to the world of local wireless terminology. Ready?

The winners at the FCC ruling are members of the HomeRF Group, which includes Intel (INTC), Siemens (SI), Motorola (MOT) and Compaq. Their supporters call themselves CUBE. Their technology is "frequency-hopping spread spectrum," and its nickname is SWAP.

The losers in this ruling are members of an industry group called WECA, which includes Cisco, 3Com (COMS), Apple and Lucent. These companies' technology, "direct-sequence spread spectrum," sometimes goes by the number of its IEEE standard, 802,11B, and sometimes by the nickname Wi-Fi.

The FCC ruling quintupled the bandwidth available per channel for the first group, the makers of frequency-hopping equipment. This will enable frequency-hopping equipment to run six to seven times faster, enabling it to catch up with the direct-sequence competition. InternetNews' account untangled these complexities nicely, but Wired and ZDNet both confused frequency (megahertz) with speed of transmission (megabits per second).

Several outlets implied that frequency-hopping equipment is cheaper than direct-sequence, but no one said why. Only ZDNet mentioned prices, in a quote from a Dataquest analyst, but the context is such that you can't really figure out how much either kind of gear is likely to cost.

The New York Times' Lisa Guernsey turned in a good summary of the wireless landscape without delving too deeply into the gears and levers. For more technical detail see Patricia Fusco's piece in InternetNews. The AP gave this story short shrift; Reuters, shorter. - Keith Dawson

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