The 802.11n Muddle

When it comes to adopting prestandard 802.11n wireless gear, there are no easy answers.

The forthcoming 802.11n wireless standard and the rash of new products that manufacturers say use 802.11n technology are sowing confusion among many IT professionals.

An IEEE 802.11 task group, TGn, was formed in January of last year to develop a new amendment to the 802.11 standard. Its goal was to build on existing technology to develop higher throughput—at least 100M bps—while maintaining compatibility with existing standards. Sixty-two groups announced plans to submit 802.11n proposals, and 32 proposals were actually submitted. The task group voted in January to narrow the field to two: the 630M-bps TGn Sync and the 540M-bps WWiSE (World-Wide Spectrum Efficiency).

At the IEEE TGn meeting this month, TGn Sync garnered 56 percent of the vote, emerging as the victor over WWiSE. But to gain full IEEE acceptance, TGn Sync must get 75 percent of the vote.

Most analysts predict that it will take the TGn Sync group the rest of the year to make the necessary proposal modifications to attain the 75 percent majority.

Final ratification is expected to take until late next year or early 2007. And it will probably be several additional months after that before true 802.11n-compliant products are available on the market.

A number of manufacturers, including Belkin, Linksys, Netgear and D-Link, have released or announced products that incorporate some of the proposed 802.11n technologies, but none of them uses all the proposed technologies.

Many products using a proposed 802.11n technology—specifically, MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output), which increases bandwidth efficiency—are employing competing versions of the technology.

/zimages/6/28571.gifClick here to read an in-depth analysis of MIMO.

One must assume that not one of these products will necessarily work with the others—even if they use the same chip set. And it is highly unlikely that any of them will be compatible with the final 802.11n standard—even with a firmware upgrade.

What must an IT purchaser do to get the increased throughput and range provided by 802.11n technology between now and 2007? Are any pre-802.11n products from the vendors mentioned earlier a viable solution? Will those products have to be discarded when the final 802.11n specification is published?

The truth is that any of these products will continue to perform as well as ever, even after a new standard has been published. If you need wireless performance beyond what 802.11g can provide—and you need it now—I suggest that you consider adopting one of the pre-802.11n products currently offered.

Michael Sthultz is the research coordinator for the International Identity Theft and Financial Fraud Research and Operations Center. His e-mail address is msthultz@ Free Spectrum is a forum for the IT community and welcomes contributions. Send submissions to

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