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802.11g Approved by IEEE Working Group

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 802.11 Working Group, the group behind the development of the 802.11 specifications for wireless networks, has given its approval to the current draft of the 802.11g specification.

This is not a final IEEE approval however. According to Matthew Shoemake, the chair for the 100+ member 802.11g Task Group, the draft now goes to sponsor organization's balloting pool for comments. "When ballot results are back, just before our [Working Group] meeting in Dallas, we'll review all their comments. There will likely be some changes to make, and we'll update."

At that point, the 11g draft will move to version 7.0. It will again go back to the sponsor group for comments until they are satisfied. Shoemake says that if there are enough comments, there's a chance the draft could reach version 9.0 before June, when they expect to ask the IEEE Standards Board for final approval (sponsor group comments are technical; standards board makes sure the 802.11 Working Group followed all IEEE procedures).

Publication of the specification is expected to follow in July.

802.11g extends the OSI Model Physical Layer (PHY) of 802.11b from 11Mbps using DSSS modulation to 54Mbps using OFDM modulation. Users of 802.11g products will have backward compatibility with the existing install base of 802.11b products, albeit at 802.11b's slower data rate. (802.11a products, which are also 54Mbps using OFDM, do not work with 11b because they use a different radio frequency.)

802.11g products based on an earlier draft started shipping in late 2002. Companies including Buffalo Technologies, Linksys, D-Link, and Apple all have products available. Other companies with announced 11g products include Netgear, Belkin, Actiontec and Proxim.

Stuart Kerry, Chair of the IEEE 802.11 Working Group, said in the Task Group's press release that while "the IEEE is pleased to see early development of product based on our work, it is quite speculative to release products at this time."

Translated, that means the IEEE is not condoning (nor really censuring) the early use of the 11g draft in products due to potential incompatibilities or problems those products could be introducing in the market -- it's caveat emptor. Most if not all of the products currently out on shelves are using an draft of 802.11g, earlier than version 6.1. The 802.11g Task Group last updated the draft in January.

Chipmakers Intersil and Broadcom have helped push 11g products based on their silicon out to stores; chipmaker Atheros has been quite vocal in saying those early products were part of a "rush to market to have something labeled G-ish," according to Rich Redelfs, CEO of Atheros.

About the IEEE and 802.11

The 802.11g Task Group within the 802.11 Working Group was formed in September 2000 and contains over 100 members from various companies, consultancies and academic institutions. The Working Group meets every two months and includes all Task Groups under the 802.11 umbrella; individual Task Groups meet in odd months when called for.

At next month's meeting in Dallas, Shoemake says the Working Group will be requesting the formation of a new Task Group called 802.11m, with the "m" standing for maintenance. The group's job will be to perform maintenance on previously published amendments to the 802.11-1999 published specification. 802.11b, 802.11g, etc., are such amendments.

"Periodically we roll [amendment standards] up into one document. A maintenance group comes along and goes through it all democratically, voting and balloting," as per IEEE procedure, says Shoemake.

Shoemake is employed by Texas Instruments as director of research and development for wireless technology and points out that membership in IEEE is per individual. Companies, even if they pay the bills for their member employees, are not considered members.