In 802.11n, the n Means Now!

Opinion: Wi-Fi companies are breaking the logjam in the standardization process and pushing forward on their own.

Finally fed-up with the progress—actually, the lack of progress—toward a new wireless LAN standard, a group of 26 companies this week announced theyll push forward on their own. The Enhanced Wireless Consortium hopes to release a final draft of its 600M bps 802.11n standard sometime next month.

This could put the new high-speed Wi-Fi flavor in customers hands before the end of 2006, members of the Consortium said.

Standards-making is usually a messy process, and 802.11n has been no exception. There have been competing proposals, and no one group has been able to generate consensus. Into the vacuum have come a handful of proprietary "pre-N" products from Belkin and D-Link that promise improvements over existing 802.11g network performance.

EWC member companies include Intel, Broadcom, Atheros, Apple, Lenovo, Linksys, Marvell and Sony. Some of them are very concerned about the possibility of non-interoperable network technologies taking hold in the marketplace. Belkin has been offering its Pre-N products for about a year, and while it works with existing Wi-Fi networks, the Pre-N features work only with other Belkin hardware.

/zimages/4/28571.gifWi-Fi standard rivals agree to work together. Click here to read more.

It would be a stretch to say Belkin and D-Link drove creation of the EWC, especially since D-Link is a member of the group. But, the renegades didnt hurt, either. (Belkin is not a member, though EWC representatives say the company would be welcome to join).

Interoperability of different hardware vendors goods has played a huge role in making wireless LANs both affordable and nearly ubiquitous (at least around my office). Anything that threatens interoperability should be a cause for alarm, not only for vendors but at customer organizations, as well. The last thing customers need is any move toward proprietary wireless.

Customers, however, should not have to care about the IEEEs standards-making process, only the result. And in case of the EWCs 802.11n proposal, the result could be very nice, indeed.

According to the group, its 802.11n proposal includes:

  • Mixed-mode interoperability with 802.11a/b/g networks, offering enhanced performance while maintaining communication with legacy devices.
  • The transmission rate will be up to 600M bps, though throughput should be more in the 400M bps range. As such, 802.11n is intended to support applications requiring high data rates (such as transmitting multiple HDTV streams) while reducing battery drain by minimizing the time required to send and receive data streams.
  • 802.11n would continue use of the 2.4GHz and/or 5GHz unlicensed bands, matching the frequency plan of existing 802.11 devices. Spatial multiplexing modes would be used for simultaneous transmission using one to four antennas, increasing overall range as well as data rates at a given distance from the access point.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to find David Courseys Podcast on OQOs tiny Windows XP machines.

Reading those specs, my first thought is of a home network robust enough to actually network all a homes entertainment and information needs without resorting to wires. But business too can always find something to do with increased throughput, even if it isnt as exciting as HDTV in every room. Or maybe it will be, as businesses use increasing amounts of both desktop and conference room video.

The EWCs work isnt a slam-dunk, since the proposal will be subject to an IEEE vote before it becomes official. Yet, this assemblage of 26 leading Wi-Fi companies may have broken the logjam that has delayed a new standard that should generate a lot of customer interest when it starts appearing in wireless hardware.

Yes, I want my 802.11n—and thats "n" and in "now."

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