WECA Wrestles With Wi-Fi

The Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance's formidable task of finding the best way to route developers from Wi-Fi (802.11b) to the more prestigious Wi-Fi-5 certification could delay launches of future wireless LAN wares.

The organization that drove the adoption of the popular 802.11b WLAN specification is now struggling with how to test and market future wireless LAN products.

At issue in the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance is how to best route developers from Wi-Fi (802.11b) to the more prestigious Wi-Fi-5 certification. The task is formidable and could lead not only to confusion for users but also to a delay in product releases.

In November, WECA said products that support the IEEE 802.11a standard would automatically receive Wi-Fi-5 certification if they passed WECA tests. The organization, however, is now backtracking and considering whether it should require products to support other 802.11 standards to achieve the certification.

"Technical terms like 802.11e, 802.11h, 802.11i or dual band can be confusing to consumers," said Dennis Eaton, chairman of WECA, in San Jose, Calif. "That is why WECA initiated a workgroup several months ago to develop a solution that will minimize the confusion and provide a transition path for products that are based on prior commitments."

Currently, however, WECA has at least four possible road maps for Wi-Fi-5 certification, which include various combinations of 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g. This has led to infighting among WECA members, and, so far, WECA has responded by creating more alternatives, making it even harder to pick a set way to test products, according to sources.

"This is disappointing, as several .11a vendors have indicated to me that they were ready to ship enterprise-grade .11a hardware last December but held back when they heard that WECA was going to do a Wi-Fi-5 certification," said Kevin Baradet, network systems director at the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, in Ithaca, N.Y., and an eWeek Corporate Partner.

WECA members said they count on the organization to do what the IEEE cannot do—ensure that companies test the standards they create and set a direction when standards diverge into confusion.

"The IEEE has not created market confusion, but its not their job [to keep the market from being confused]," said Jim Zyren, director of strategic marketing for wireless networking at Intersil Corp., in Irvine, Calif. "Its up to companies and organizations like WECA to create the clean and easy-to-understand messaging."

IT managers said they count on the same thing and that the WECA logo—or seal of approval—really matters.

"Its handy because we can say to users that want to purchase personal cards, If it isnt WECA/Wi-Fi labeled, then dont buy it," Cornells Baradet said. "If you do buy it, dont expect us to expend large amounts of time to trouble-shoot failures."

WECA officials said theres no set date for a decision on the best way to test and certify 802.11a products or any future iterations of dual-band products.

Related stories:

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  • Review: 802.11a 5 Times Faster Than 11b
  • Is 802.11a Dead Before It Even Begins?