Wi-Fi Group Cracks Down on Incompatible Extensions

In its new policy, the Wi-Fi Alliance says it will yank its logo from devices whose proprietary extensions "impair the ability of other certified products to operate as intended."

The Wi-Fi Alliance announced a new policy Monday to prevent proprietary extensions to wireless standards from breaking compatibility with other devices.

The alliance said it would pull its logo—certifying interoperability with other Wi-Fi products—from devices whose extensions made them inoperable with other devices.

The policy seems to be the Wi-Fi Alliances response to the "good neighbor" debate between Atheros Inc. and Broadcom Corp. last year, which highlighted member concerns about interoperability challenges.

Broadcom had claimed that Atheros "turbo mode" specification–which allowed up to 108 Mbits/s transmission throughput between Atheros-based Wi-Fi products–flooded the network with packets and prevented devices with radios designed by Broadcom and other manufacturers from working as advertised.

Wi-Fi Alliance representatives were traveling in Asia and could not be reached for comment at press time. Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the alliance, said in a statement that products may be certified only if both the base product and any extensions "do not impair the ability of other certified products to operate as intended."

"If a product extension significantly impacts the ability of other Wi-Fi certified equipment to operate as intended, the alliance may withhold or revoke certification," Hanzlik said. "We have taken this important step due to the Wi-Fi Alliances continued commitment to a positive consumer experience."

Dave Borison, product manager at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Atheros, said he was not aware that the Wi-Fi Alliance had developed a process for the removal of certification, or how that process might work. To his knowledge, he said, Atheros has not received any complaints from customers of devices that had failed to work because of the "turbo mode" capability.

"Our experience has been that when the issue first came up [last year] we opened the kimono and showed them how the algorithm works," Borison said.

/zimages/2/28571.gifAtheros and Broadcom are both guilty of wireless problems, Jim Louderback writes. Click here to read more.

He also speculated that the policy may be put in place to prevent manufacturers from "jumping the gun" on 802.11n, the next-generation 400- to 500-Mbit Wi-Fi throughput enhancement due to be ratified by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) in 2006.

Last week, for example, Agere Systems said it would propose a technical specification this summer based on two key attributes: the use of MIMO (many-in, many-out) datapaths through multiple antennas, and the use of adjacent 20-MHz channel bands for increased throughput.

The Wi-Fi Alliance also said that it plans to add additional testing laboratories over the course of the year in locations including Spain, Germany and Korea.

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