802.11g: It’s Official

The final specification for 802.11g should be a done deal by this time Thursday. This is on target with projections from earlier this year for a June approval.

802.11g is the high speed (54Mbps) wireless networking technology that is backward compatible with the slower 802.11b that is just about everywhere. Both run in the 2.4GHz radio frequency band. 802.11g extends the OSI Model Physical Layer (PHY) of 802.11b from 11Mbps using DSSS modulation to 54Mbps using OFDM modulation. Despite not being finalized until this week, 802.11g products have been shipping since late 2002.

Final ratification will take place tomorrow during a meeting of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standards Board Review Committee. Just today, that group’s Revision Subcommittee also signed off on 11g.

Last week, in an e-mail ballot, the 802 Executive Committee also signed off on 802.11g. That group oversees all the 802/networking related Working Groups, everything from Ethernet (802.3) to Bluetooth/PANs (802.15.1) to Wi-Fi (802.11).

The above groups are not changing the specification’s technical attributes, but instead make sure that all IEEE procedural rules were followed and that all members got a say that wanted a say. Brian Matthews, the IEEE 802.11 Working Group Publicity Chair says, “It’s procedural at this point, to make sure it adheres to the letter and spirit of the standards process.”

In February, the 802.11 Working Group signed of on an 802.11g draft version, but it still had to go through a balloting pool for comments. Thus 11g went under a few more changes until the end of April when it reached its current version 8.2. In May, the group decided no more changes would be forthcoming to the specification, and they sent it forward for this month’s ratification.

Matthew Shoemake, the 802.11g Task Group (TGg) Chair — 802.11x Task Groups meet along with the overall 802.11 Working Group each month, and then again on odd months when needed — says that assuming everything is approved tomorrow, the 8.2 draft number will go away and they’ll be left with just 802.11g, as is.

This is good news for companies that have been putting out software revisions for their available 802.11g products that cover the 8.2 draft. By default they will automatically be supporting the final 802.11g specification then. For example, Broadcom, which supplies chips for 802.11g products from Buffalo Technology, Linksys, Belkin, Apple and others, is already using the 8.2 specification in its driver software, so updates for those products will arrive as soon as vendors can get them out to customers. Chip maker Atheros also reports that it also has shipped 8.2 draft support to its customers that they can make available with a software upgrade.

In July in San Francisco, Shoemake will give a final report on TGg, at which point, that group will also go away.

Shoemake is, however, ready to move on his next position with IEEE (he has a day job with Texas Instruments): he’ll be heading up the 802.11n Task Group (TGn), again as chair. For a while now, it’s been rumored that 802.11n would be coming to deliver major bandwidth increases for 802.11 networks.

“We’re still getting final approval for the project authorization,” says Shoemake. “We hope to have first meeting in September. Things take a few years to get done in 802.11 in our process, but people are still presenting ideas. We’ll target at least 100Mbps, but people have thrown out higher numbers.”

The original TGg was formed in September of 2000, so work has taken just under three years to complete 802.11g. Shoemake says the whole process took about as long as he’s seen with other IEEE standards, but said “if you normalize it by the number of members, it would be faster — the number of members has exploded. It’s probably five or six fold more than when 11b came around.” That’s a lot of opinions and comments to deal with, but he’s happy to note “we still did it in three years.”

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