Notebook Makers Cautiously Await MIMO for Wireless Boost

 
 
By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2005-06-17
 
 
 
Notebook PC makers are beginning to make room for MIMO.

Companies such as Dell Inc. and Gateway Inc. are eager to add MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) wireless networking technology to their systems. The technology, which is used by the forthcoming 802.11n wireless networking specification, promises to boost the bandwidth of local-area wireless networks using multiple antennas.

Gateway, for one, has already designed its notebooks to fit the multiple antennas needed to step up to MIMO, an executive from the company said.

But despite MIMOs potential to speed wireless networks and the work being done to design it into notebooks—not to mention work by radio module producers such as Intel Corp.—802.11n notebooks are a ways off. Consumer systems that offer so-called pre-standard versions of the technology are just coming to market now.

Its likely to take many more months for corporate notebooks, as manufacturers generally say they will not offer 802.11n for business notebooks until a technology standard that ensures its interoperability is adopted.

The IEEE, a consortium that sets standards for computer components, isnt expected adopt a draft 802.11n standard until September, notebook makers say. Given the reluctance of corporations to adopt non-standard technologies, PC makers have little desire to offer them in business machines beforehand.

"Were very bullish on the technology," said Gary Elsasser, vice president of product development at Gateway. "We have support, right now, for MIMO across all of our notebook product lines and were looking forward to its release." However, he said, "Were very cautious about adopting any of those pre-n solutions."

MIMO, industry watchers say, has two camps which have to come together before an 802.11n standard is created. The standard is currently deadlocked between TGn Sync, which proposes using 40MHz channels in the 5GHz spectrum band used by 802.11a, while another proposal, WWiSE, involves using 20MHz channels in the 2.4GHz band used by 802.11b/g.

Read more here about the conflict between the TGn Sync and WWiSE 802.11n standard proposals.

Dell, for its part, says its taking an active role in bringing the two together. Its aim is to secure a standard, and thereby gain the ability to offer products to its business customers as soon as possible.

"Dell is really hoping and working with our partners to get them to converge and create a draft [802.11n] standard," said Alan Sicher, a product planner for wireless at Dell. "One of our roles is to emphasize the similarities between proposals" in order to foster agreement between the camps and soon arrive at a standard. That draft standard could come by September, he said.

Executives at Toshiba America Inc., whose European sister operation has been involved in MIMO research and development, said they too would wait for a standard before shipping 802.11n wireless on any Toshiba system in the United States.

"Were not going to implement a non-standard technology in the wireless area," said Chris Casper, group manager product development at Toshiba America Information Systems in Irvine, Calif. However, Casper said, "As we get closer to 802.11n, well look at what itll take to incorporate the MIMO structure into our platforms."

While theyre waiting for a standard for their corporate machines, some manufacturers have rolled out so-called "pre-standard" versions of 802.11n for consumer-oriented machines. Samsung, for example, has already adopted Airgo Networks Inc.s 802.11n technology for consumer-oriented machines. It does not sell them in the United States, however.

Although some of the larger notebook makers have said they are reluctant to adopt pre-standard 802.11—its considered proprietary and not upgradeable to the 802.11n standard—Airgo has said it will announce a new line of chip sets and at least one large enterprise-level licensee within the next quarter.

Click here to read more about Airgos pre-standard chip set announcements.

Even Intel is getting in on 802.11n. The chipmaker on Friday presented papers at the VLSI Symposium on Circuits in Kyoto, Japan, that discuss adding 802.11n to its Centrino chip bundle for wireless notebooks, said Manny Vara, a technology strategist with Intel.

However, "At this time, since 802.11n is not ratified as a standard, it would be premature to speculate if and when it will appear in our products," an Intel spokeswoman said in an e-mail. "This demonstration is through our [research] labs. We have not disclosed when this technology might be in an Intel platform."

Still, even with Intel, Airgo and others building hardware, "Its a little less clear how this gets deployed into the business environment, especially if [businesses] already have 802.11b" or 802.11g, Sicher said. "Its probably going to be pretty slow going at first."

Given their investment in the technology, businesses are likely to stick to 802.11g networks for some time, even when Dell and others begin offering 802.11n. Some will move over in stages, getting started by migrating small numbers of users.

But, once sorted out, "Its a small step backward in terms of cost, but a huge step forward in terms of performance," Sicher said.

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