The executives, speaking here at a Wi-Fi Planet panel on "N Wars—the Struggle to Define the 802.11n Standard," said much of the next 18 months will be spent trying to hammer out differences between the two proposed standards that have the most industry support.
Another in the long line of Wi-Fi technical standards, 802.11n is based on a new radio technology called MIMO (multiple input/multiple output) that allows the transmission of up to 100M bps over a much wider range than the earlier versions.
Earlier this fall Wi-Fi engineers working on the proposed specification met in San Antonio and debated the merits of four separate 802.11n proposals, said Sheung Li, product line manager at Atheros Communications Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif., which is also a proponent of one of the proposals.
These four proposals will certainly be cut back to two when the IEEE 802.11 Task Group N meets at Monterey, Calif., in January, Li said.
The question, Li suggested, will be how long it takes for the task group to unify the two competing proposals into a standard that everyone can agree on.
One of the sticking points in this effort is suggestions that the final specification be offered to the industry on a royalty-free basis. V.K. Jones, chief scientist with Airgo Networks Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif., said while this is a fine idea, "we are not guaranteeing" that all the technology covered by the specification will be royalty-free.
Two attendees at the Wi-Fi conference noted that some manufacturers are already trying to take advantage of the interest in 802.11n technology by introducing products that they describe as "pre-n." This means that they support some aspects of the draft specification "just to make money while the issue is hot," said Kabe Little, channel manager with Renasis, LLC, a manufacturer of amplifiers and antennas for Wi-Fi networks in Lehi, Utah.
Renasis itself has some of its own technology that it has thought about offering early support for 802.11n specification, but hasnt decided whether to enter the market, said Littles fellow channel manager at Renasis, Ryan McKenzie. "Whatever standard comes from these pre-n specification discussions, we will hopefully develop a product based on it," he said.
Its hard for manufacturers to make long-term plans about product design "when there is such a dispute over what [the specification] is going to say or mean," Little said. If a pre-n product "only fits specific needs for a month, or a month and a half, it doesnt do us much good," he said.