The Wi-Fi Alliance consists of virtually every company on the planet that has anything to do with Wi-Fi, including such giants as Cisco, Microsoft and Intel (for the complete list, see www.wi-fi.org).
"The 802.11n standard has been delayed until March 2008," said Wi-Fi Alliance Managing Director Frank Hanzlik. "Because of those delays in the IEEE process and the large number of pre-standard products, we looked at our decision to wait, and asked if that still made sense. We decided it didnt."
Hanzlik said that waiting until March 2008 would be too long for both the industry and for consumers. "Were going to introduce a two-phase certification program," he said. "The first phase will introduce certification of pre-standard 802.11n products starting in the first half of 2007.
"What were going to do is target the first approved 802.11n letter ballot," Hanzlik said, describing the process of taking the first significant document containing what will eventually become the standard as the basis. "Thats the baseline for the standard, if thats available for March 2007."
Hanzlik said that the alliance has a fall-back plan. "If its not approved, well still certify and well draw on the latest and best from the IEEE," he said.
"The second phase is that when the final standard is ratified, we will have a follow-on certification program that will align with the final 802.11n standard," Hanzlik said.
One concern that the alliance has, Hanzlik said, is that the final 802.11n standard be backward-compatible with the pre-standard certified devices. "We will drive toward having a goal of backward compatibility," he said, but cautioned, "Its irresponsible to make absolute guarantees."
Hanzlik noted that products that are currently being sold as 802.11n pre-standard products arent included in the backward-compatibility plans, but he said that manufacturers arent saying they will be. "Manufacturers are being very careful not to promise forward compatibility with the standard," he said.
However, Hanzlik doesnt want to discourage people from buying products built in advance of the standard, as long as theyre Wi-Fi certified. "My sense is that a lot of the action is in the home space," he said. "A lot of folks jumping on those products are early adopters. They are quite reasonably priced."
These people will have to be prepared to change out their routers in a year and a half or so if they want to match the standard when it comes out, according to Hanzlik, but he said that for most home and small businesses, "changing out a router every 18 months is not a big deal."