Industry Heavyweights Join for Wireless Consortium

Cisco, Intel and others have formed a new group in an effort to accelerate a new Wi-Fi standard.

Cisco Systems Inc., Broadcom Corp., Intel Corp. and 24 other companies with significant interest in the next Wi-Fi standard have banded together to form the EWC (Enhanced Wireless Consortium).

The EWC was created to accelerate the IEEE 802.11n standard development process, which has proved more sluggish than those in the industry had anticipated. By introducing a specification with widespread industry support, the EWC hopes to get the IEEE majority support thats needed to finalize the spec.

Also involved are Lenovo, Linksys, Toshiba, US Robotics, Sony, Sanyo and a host of smaller product developers and chip manufacturers.

The EWCs formation is not an attempt to circumvent the IEEE specification process, noted US Robotics senior product manager Jim Thomsen, but instead an attempt to "promote an interoperable interim specification to deliver higher performance wireless networking solutions to our customers while the 802.11n standard is being finalized," he said.

The consortium has defined a specification that it says can be used in the PC and networking equipment market, as well as for handheld and consumer electronic applications.

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Its spec supports speeds of up to 600M bps, and the EWC is considering folding more into it, such as Space Time Block Coding and beamforming, which will enable systems to have greater range for wireless products.

The groups larger goal is to finally have an 802.11n spec in place, said Bill Bunch, Broadcoms director of product management for wireless LAN.

"The 802.11n process has taken many turns thus far," he said. "We felt it was necessary to complete an actual specification."

The Wi-Fi Alliance has not officially backed the consortium, but the groups director of marketing, Karen Hanley, noted, "Any progress toward a standard is a good step. If this bring consensus more quickly, then that would be beneficial for the industry."

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the consortium and its goals.

"The goodness factor promoted by the members of this initiative is really disguised self interest," said Ken Dulaney, analyst at Gartner Inc.

The creation of the EWC is similar to another independent effort designed to develop a specification, the UWB, he noted. But in that groups case, there was a deadlock between two standards in the IEEE, which does not seem to be the situation with the EWC.

The group is a compromise between TGnSync and WWiSE, he added, which leaves out third potential standard MIMO.

"Im not sure what political parties are where, but we now know that one piece has been left out," said Dulaney. "This is a political power play."

ABI Research senior analyst of wireless connectivity Philip Solis added that EWC-compliant products could begin reaching the market by the end of 2006, making the standard into a potential market driver.

"Whether or not the EWC specification will form the basis of an eventual IEEE 802.11 protocol remains to be seen, but if so, that would mean availability of pre-802.11n systems sooner than might have been expected," said Solis.

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