RealTime IT News

Two Approvals For Next-Gen Wi-Fi

UPDATED: Realizing that companies aren't waiting for certification of the next-generation 802.11 specification, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced phased-in approval of pre-standard 802.11n products.

The Wi-Fi group said it would certify wireless gear based on a draft version planned for March 2007, although the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) is not expected to approve a final version of the 802.11n standard until 2008.

Gear would then be recertified using the final standard.

"This two-phase approach balances our longstanding commitment to standards-based technology with the current market need for product interoperability certification," Frank Hanzlik, Wi-Fi Alliance managing director, said in a statement.

The new approach is a departure from the group's previous requirement of a finalized standard before gaining industry certification.

"Pre-standard products always present an inherent risk for technology adopters, and that is why we will not certify 802.11n products until the IEEE standard is finalized," Hanzlik said in 2004. "It's all a balancing act," Hanzlik told internetnews.com.

While the group would like to see a final standard before placing its seal-of-approval on products, the organization sees 802.11n "as a strong catalyst for industry growth," according to Hanzlik. Airgo Networks, a company supplying the technology forming the core of 802.11n, said further delays could cause the Wi-Fi market to stagnate, or worse.

"Rather than people waiting, they could have a bad experience," said Dave Borrison, director of product management.

ABI Research analyst Alan Varghese told internetnews.com that the Wi-Fi Alliance didn't have a choice and took the only stance it could.

Companies forced the group's hand when they began marketing 802.11n products based on an early draft of the faster wireless home networking specification.

For example, Linksys sells its Wireless-N product line, Netgear offers the RangeMax and D-Link has the RangeBooster N.

The new wireless technology, promising 100Mb/sec and greater range, is required to meet the changing demands of consumers.

While Wi-Fi began as a way to unwire Internet connections transferring mostly data, today's wireless networks are streaming data, voice and video.

The increasing popularity of high-definition television, for example, means a video signal alone requires 20MB of bandwidth, quickly consuming an 802.11g connection, according to the analyst.

While Varghese had earlier advised that consumers and businesses wait for a final version of 802.11n, with it now pushed back until 2008, the analyst suggests delaying purchases for a few months while thousands of changes are ironed out.

"I see a lot of hiccups, actually," he said, before the first round of certifications scheduled in March.

The Wi-Fi Alliance's Hanzlik agrees.

"We believe the maturity of the baseline features in the pre-standard certification diminishes the risk that products won't comply with IEEE 802.11n when it is ratified," he said in a statement.

Unlike the case of 802.11g, which experienced a six-month lag between draft and final standard, 802.11n has seen an 18 month gap, creating more concern in the Wi-Fi industry, according to Varghese.