Wireless Memories -- A Look Back

When products based on the 802.11n draft specification first came to market, I cautioned that the time was not right to buy, as changes to the wireless draft specification could render those products unable to interoperate with the true specification down the road. As it turned out, the specification did not evolve far enough to require the hardware modifications to make this perspective a reality. Yet most of those products have yet to be certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance.

When products based on the 802.11n draft specification first came to market, I cautioned that the time was not right to buy, as changes to the wireless draft specification could render those products unable to interoperate with the true specification down the road. As it turned out, the specification did not evolve far enough to require the hardware modifications to make this perspective a reality. Yet most of those products have yet to be certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Last weekend, I finally got started on my long-delayed plan to stream HDTV-quality video around my house. The basic idea is simply to have a single, always-on media center in an out-of-the-way location, with other PCs connected to TVs streaming content from the DVR. While I found I had most of the pieces at my disposal to make this plan possible, my network was proving not able to consistently pass a single HD stream (let alone several concurrent ones).

My home network is a mishmash of technologies: Gigabit and Fast Ethernet where possible, and 802.11g wireless LAN for clients. Forming the backbone of the network from one side of the house to the other is a Powerline network. During my fiddling around this weekend, I found that as currently constructed, neither the Powerline nor the wireless networks -- which were fine for streaming DVD-quality video -- could handle HDTV without a lot of skips and jumps. And there was no way either could support multiple simultaneous streams.

Since my wireless router (Apple's AirPort Extreme) is draft-802.11n-capable, I decided the time was right to step up to N across my network. The Wi-Fi Alliance has been steadily certifying products for compliance with Draft 2.0 of the specification for a couple of months now, so I thought I would take a look to get a better sense of which client devices were guaranteed to work the way I wanted.

While doing this research, I checked on all the early-generation products I tested to see if any of them had made it through the certifications. Sadly, only two are currently certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance.

WiFi%20Cert.JPG

Now, just because a product has not yet been certified does not mean that it won't interoperate with other hardware now. It also doesn't mean that the products aren't currently being certified as we speak, or at least soon. The certification process takes time and money, and almost all of the vendors (Cisco/Linksys, Netgear, Belkin, Buffalo, Lenovo) have some products that have already been certified. Apple is the lone exception at this point.

As I work on my home network, I figure I will slide some of the old clients in and out of the network to see if they are up to the task.