RealTime IT News

11n: Let the Testing Begin

The Wi-Fi Alliance will launch its certification program for 802.11n Draft 2.0 products in late June as expected. The program features a new testbed of products for interoperability testing, plus a brand new logo design for the packaging of certified products:

Certified 11n

“The logo focuses on 11n capability and backward compatibility to a or g or both,” says Karen Hanley, senior director of marketing for the Alliance. “It was a design we chose from more than 200 options, which we tested with consumers and took to the membership for approval. Everyone thought it did the best job of showing the backward compatibility element.” She says that, for now, the Alliance can’t make guarantees to anyone about upgradeability to the final 11n spec, even if vendors promise the firmware. Because of that, she says, “backwards compatibility is what we’re most worried about.”

The logo, as shown, includes the word “DRAFT,” but that will be dropped once the 802.11n specification is ratified in 2008 and products are tested (or even retested) for the final standard.

The new testbed of products the Alliance will utilize in its seven certification labs around the globe are mostly reference designs -- Atheros’ Xspan , Broadcom’s Intensi-Fi , Marvell’s TopDog and Ralink’s MIMObility, each with a router/AP and client card. There’s also a Cisco AP and the Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN -- the chip powering the Wi-Fi in the new Centrino Pro/Centrino Duo laptops. All the products have been tested, as per Hanley’s comments above, as interoperable with 802.11a/b/g legacy products.

The testbed software tool is WildPackets' OmniPeek Workgroup Pro.

The Alliance test will only include 40 MHz channels -- an option of 802.11n to increase bandwidth -- in the 5 GHz spectrum. A possibility of interference exists with 802.11b and 11g products using the 2.4 GHz band. Newer 11n products (which can support both 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz) are expected to be a good neighbor to existing networks, so all products are expected to dummy down to 20 MHz channels when legacy networks are in range. This ability to find older networks and respect them is called the “greenfield preamble.”

Hanley says the labs are currently doing quality control tests with the testbed, and praised the companies providing products, saying, “It represents a big commitment by them to invest the engineering hours.” It also doesn’t hurt that they can market their reference designs as being already Wi-Fi Certified, of course, giving their OEM customers reassurance that their final products are more than likely to pass certification testing the first time around.

Starting with the 11n testing, the formerly optional Wi-Fi MultiMedia (WMM) test for Quality of Service (QoS), as specified in the 802.11e spec, is now mandatory. Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (based on 802.11i) is still mandatory. Other options that vendors can request testing of include power savings and Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), the Alliance’s first standard of its own, building an ease-of-use feature on top of WPA security.

“We expect strong uptake of [11n certification testing],” Hanley says. “We expect to see certified products on shelves in the summer -- in fact, the logo is available to vendors now so they can prepare their packaging. Once they’re certified, they can sell in the channel.”

The Alliance will have a white paper available today both for retailers selling 11n Draft 2.0 products and for consumers buying them, which discusses the upsides and downsides of the still unratified specification.

Researchers at Telecom Trends International say the market for Wi-Fi products will reach $5.6 billion in revenue by the year 2012, with 11n adoption a major factor in the growth. 11n will offer upgrades in both speed and range over the current 802.11a/b/g products.