Vendors Ready for Wi-Fi Standard

Major manufacturers are beginning to announce products that will support the 802.11n Wi-Fi standard, now that the body overseeing its development has approved a draft version and agreed to work on the next version.

The moves by a committee of the IEEE during meetings in London the week of Jan. 15 demonstrated that the next phase of Wi-Fi is moving forward, giving vendors the confidence to go ahead with products that will support the standard.

Intel officials announced Jan. 23 that the Santa Clara, Calif., company was taking advantage of the new standard to launch its Intel Next-Gen Wireless-N technology, which along with its Connect with Centrino effort will enable products using Centrino Duo mobile technology to connect with draft 802.11n access points.

Intels effort includes the ability to upgrade existing Centrino Duo products to support draft 802.11n. According to Intel, the Connect with Centrino initiative was developed in concert with leading access point vendors, including Asus, Belkin, Buffalo, D-Link and Netgear. Compatible access points will have a Connect with Centrino logo.

"One of the leading providers of components is ready to go and is shipping now," said Craig Mathias, an analyst with Farpoint Group. "The Intel component is impressive in that they did it several months ahead of when it was expected, and in the reduction of power requirements and the extension of battery life."

Atheros Communications, of Santa Clara, Calif., will be releasing products that meet the standard soon, and existing prestandard 802.11n products can be field-upgradable to meet the standard soon, said Chief Technology Officer Bill McFarland, who participated in the standards meetings in London.

At those meetings, the IEEEs 802.11n committee unanimously approved draft standard Version 1.10 and agreed to create Version 2.0, which it said should be ready in the near future. This means that the Wi-Fi Alliance can publish specifications that will allow manufacturers to build 802.11n products knowing that they will be compatible.

"Every once in a while, the stars kind of align," McFarland said. "People had very realistic expectations. For the few remaining issues, we had to find simple, reliable solutions."

The key hurdle was how to ensure that 802.11n devices would work with legacy 802.11 devices, while not interfering with them. Those include Wi-Fi devices using 802.11b and 802.11g and Bluetooth devices.

Farpoints Mathias said the Wi-Fi Alliance, which sets the Wi-Fi specifications, is far along in its testing. "Were expecting their spec in the first half of the year," he said. Mathias said the standards and the companion specifications are moving along quickly because "the direction that the standards work was going to take was well known by the participants some time ago." However, Mathias said the process has been technically challenging and "politically charged."

Part of the problem is creating a new Wi-Fi standard and specification that uses more bandwidth and operates at higher speeds than existing communications operating on the same frequency.

"How do 11n devices, which are able to use 40MHz wide-channel bands, get along with legacy devices that are already in the 2.4GHz band?" McFarland said. "We dont want these new 11n devices to interfere with the legacy devices, so we needed to come up with a solution to use 40MHz when its appropriate, but to drop back down to 20MHz bandwidth when we need to protect those devices."

Mathias said the standards committee came up with three mechanisms to protect legacy devices, while still allowing 802.11n devices to operate as efficiently as possible. McFarland said 802.11n access points should begin to appear in consumer markets this year in two flavors: those that can operate on both 802.11n frequencies of 2.4GHz and 5GHz at the same time and those where users must choose one or the other.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...