Users Wait and See on New Wireless Spec

802.11g nearing reality, but users are cautious.

With 802.11g moving closer to ratification, previously gun-shy manufacturers are showing confidence in the latest iteration of the wireless networking specification by incorporating it into new products.

But while the current 802.11g overcomes some speed issues of previous versions, the technology has not adequately addressed compatibility with the popular 802.11b, according to officials who studied the draft.

"Theyve decided to prioritize the g traffic, so if you have a mixed environment, the b traffic will be slow," said Rich Redelfs, president and CEO of Atheros Communications Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif. "The assumption is that magazines will test the g in benchmark tests and wont test b along with them."

Atheros, Proxim Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. are readying products based on Version 6.1 of the upcoming 802.11g standard, which came out late last month; the final version is due for IEEE ratification by midyear. Officials at the companies said their products will be software-upgradable to the final version of the standard.

"We feel confident that, based on the last meeting, the draft as it is now is finally stable enough for us to release product," said Georganne Benesch, vice president of product management for Proxims LAN division, also in Sunnyvale. By midyear, Proxim will introduce the Orinoco AP-2000 11g kit, which will let customers add support for 802.11g Version 6.1 to their dual-slot access points, for customizing multimode WLANs (wireless LANs). The kit will be the first in a long line of 802.11g products and upgrades from Proxim, officials said.

HP plans to introduce notebooks with built-in support for 802.11b, 802.11a and 802.11g by the end of June, said officials in Palo Alto, Calif. The notebooks wont include 802.11g but will have the ability to upgrade to support the standard once it is ratified. Officials said they wanted to avoid integrating any previous "pre-g" technology into HPs enterprise products, to ensure compatibility with the final version.


With ratification nearing, vendors prep for 802.11g:
  • Atheros Integrating pre-g technology into its multimode components, which will be software-upgradable to the final standard
  • Proxim Introducing the Orinoco AP-2000 11g kit
  • HP Planning notebooks with embedded support for 802.11g upgrades
Users with large WLAN deployments said they never use a new WLAN technology until it is ratified by the IEEE. "Its a roll of the dice for those guys [who build or buy products based on an early draft of a standard]," said Sean OConnor, manager of network operations at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, in Worcester, Mass. "If nothing changes, then theyre ahead of the game, but its a risk. I wouldnt put my business in that position. We can wait an extra couple of months and wait for it to get ratified. But we will be investing in 802.11g."

HP has included preliminary 802.11g technology from Broadcom Corp. with some of its access points, but those are geared toward consumers who are less concerned with compatibility, officials said.

HPs enterprise notebooks will include components from Atheros. Atheros was the first company to champion 802.11a, a ratified standard that offers throughput rates of up to 54M bps in as many as 13 channels of the 5GHz range. Some users have been holding out for 802.11g because it boasts similar speeds, but it also runs in the 2.4GHz band along with the slower 802.11b. Atheros plans to offer radios that integrate 802.11a, 802.11b and Version 6.1 of 802.11g by midyear.

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