Unified 802.11n Wi-Fi Standard to Emerge in Mid-2006

Engineers working on the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard say that new products that support a fully defined and unified specification won't be appear on the market until mid-2006.

SAN JOSE, Calif.—The first products that support a fully unified 802.11n Wi-Fi standard will start reaching the market in the second quarter of 2006, according to some of the wireless industry executives who are working to define the standard.

The executives, speaking here at a Wi-Fi Planet panel on "N Wars—the Struggle to Define the 802.11n Standard," said much of the next 18 months will be spent trying to hammer out differences between the two proposed standards that have the most industry support.

Another in the long line of Wi-Fi technical standards, 802.11n is based on a new radio technology called MIMO (multiple input/multiple output) that allows the transmission of up to 100M bps over a much wider range than the earlier versions.

Earlier this fall Wi-Fi engineers working on the proposed specification met in San Antonio and debated the merits of four separate 802.11n proposals, said Sheung Li, product line manager at Atheros Communications Inc., of Sunnyvale, Calif., which is also a proponent of one of the proposals.

These four proposals will certainly be cut back to two when the IEEE 802.11 Task Group N meets at Monterey, Calif., in January, Li said.

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The two survivors, the panel agreed, will be one proposed by a group of Wi-Fi equipment makers called the WWiSE Alliance and another supported by the TGn Sync group.

The question, Li suggested, will be how long it takes for the task group to unify the two competing proposals into a standard that everyone can agree on.

One of the sticking points in this effort is suggestions that the final specification be offered to the industry on a royalty-free basis. V.K. Jones, chief scientist with Airgo Networks Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif., said while this is a fine idea, "we are not guaranteeing" that all the technology covered by the specification will be royalty-free.

Two attendees at the Wi-Fi conference noted that some manufacturers are already trying to take advantage of the interest in 802.11n technology by introducing products that they describe as "pre-n." This means that they support some aspects of the draft specification "just to make money while the issue is hot," said Kabe Little, channel manager with Renasis, LLC, a manufacturer of amplifiers and antennas for Wi-Fi networks in Lehi, Utah.

Renasis itself has some of its own technology that it has thought about offering early support for 802.11n specification, but hasnt decided whether to enter the market, said Littles fellow channel manager at Renasis, Ryan McKenzie. "Whatever standard comes from these pre-n specification discussions, we will hopefully develop a product based on it," he said.

Its hard for manufacturers to make long-term plans about product design "when there is such a dispute over what [the specification] is going to say or mean," Little said. If a pre-n product "only fits specific needs for a month, or a month and a half, it doesnt do us much good," he said.

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John Pallatto

John Pallatto

John Pallatto has been editor in chief of QuinStreet Inc.'s eWEEK.com since October 2012. He has more than 40 years of experience as a professional journalist working at a daily newspaper and...