UWB Takes On 802.11n in the Wireless Fast Lane

Opinion: Is 802.11n in a horse race with ultrawideband to become the next high-speed WLAN technology?

This weeks news that the Wi-Fi Alliance, the group that certifies wireless products, is taking a strong stand against certifying prestandard 802.11n products comes as no surprise. The groups role in the industry is, after all, to be the watchdog on standards and interoperability. Its logo on a product means the goods have been certified to be interoperable with other products bearing the logo.

But the alliances action should not mean that innovative products that use high-speed MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology should—or will—come off the market. MIMO is the scheme at the center of standards proposals now in front of the IEEE and, while the proposals differ on many things, they do agree that MIMO should be part of 802.11n.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read about the Wi-Fi Alliances crackdown on "pre-n" products.

802.11n is a new high-speed standard for wireless Ethernet. Our friend Glenn Fleishman at Wi-Fi Networking News uses the best single-phrase description Ive seen to describe it: "Wi-Fis next speed bump." And it certainly is. 802.11n specifies high-speed throughput of 100 Mbps with backward compatibility to 802.11g. How it delivers that is whats up for debate at the IEEE.

There a number of prestandard products entering the market, all of which are good news to anyone who doesnt have to worry about interoperability later. The home user looking to let the kids download music videos to the family WLAN (wireless LAN) while Mom and Dad chat over a wireless VOIP connection with old classmates who now live on the opposite coast will certainly find it appealing.

/zimages/2/28571.gifPC Magazine tells you what you should know about 802.11n. Click here for the report.

But it may be a while before "n" is enterprise material. Adopting prestandard (read: proprietary) technology in an enterprise can be, at best, an expensive misstep and, at worst, a career-killer for the IT manager whos foolhardy enough to do it.

Nevertheless, I would like to see a few more "pre-n" products like the Belkin wireless "pre-n" router that PC Magazine reviewed recently.

All standards begin with proprietary technologies. Some dont make it. Others work their way, in one fashion or another, into standards. And theres nothing wrong with a good old market test to give us an idea of whats ahead, how its going to perform and whether or not we really want it—just as long as we know its proprietary and not interoperable. Thats what weve got the Wi-Fi Alliance to help us with.

So, I say, "Bring em on." Besides, if you dont, another high-speed baby might just steal the butter from the kitchen. UWB (ultrawideband) seems to be sneaking back in the back door, even if people are no longer buzzing about it with quite the same enthusiasm as they did a year ago.

Next page: The FCC takes a stand.