802.11g Products Get Certified

The Wi-Fi Alliance and several member companies today announced that the industry group’s fourth product certification program, for 802.11g (following the ongoing testing for interoperability of products using 802.11b, 802.11a, and Wi-Fi Protected Access), has concluded its first round. The products certified will make up the official test bed used by the Alliance labs for all future testing of 802.11g products, according to Dennis Eaton, the chairman of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

“There’s a “down selection” process for lack of a better term,” says Eaton, that gets us down to a few companies….we want the core technology providers in there, so we know they’ll be around for a while.”
The Wi-Fi Alliance held off on testing 802.11g products until the specification was finalized last month by the IEEE . Many 802.11g products had shipped long before that time, based on the early drafts of 11g, including successful lines from Linksys, Buffalo Technology, and Apple. Both 802.11g and popular 802.11b use the 2.4GHz radio band and are designed to be interoperable, though 11g uses a different modulation scheme to get about five times the speed.

The initial test of 11g products features products with silicon from four different chipmakers (Intersil, Texas Instruments, Atheros, and Broadcom) — in fact, most of the 11g certificated products are in reference designs from the chip makers. Reference designs can be used by original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to speed the creation of end-user 802.11g products, but any final products must again tested for interoperability by the Alliance. Certification of a reference design and chip, however, gives OEMs assurance that final products will pass without problems.

These first products finalized for 11g certification are part of the 802.11g test bed the Alliance will use in all future 802.11g testing (the refresh the test bed as needed about every year). For example, Texas Instruments (TI) got certification for two reference designs, the TNET1130-powered Cardbus and the TNETWA622-g10-DP access point — the former will be used specifically in the testing of interoperability between 802.11b and 802.11g products.

Other chips and reference designs given certification include the Broadcom 54g BCM94306-GAP access point design; Intersil’s dual-band PRISM Duette 11a/g/b chips in an access point (ISL39300A) and PC Card (ISL39000C); and the Atheros AR5001X+ Universal Network Adapter which also supports 802.11a/g/b.

The Atheros chip powers the Proxim ORiNOCO AP-600b/g products which got certification; the only other end user product in this group was the Melco/Buffalo Technology AirStation 54Mbps WLI-CB-G54(A) notebook PC Card, which uses the Broadcom 54g chip. Companies that agree to be part of the Alliance test bed also must agree to sell their products to members of the Alliance that want to do their own in-house testing before contacting the labs.

Many products coming out these days are dual-band, supporting both the 2.4GHz 802.11g/b and the 5GHz 802.11a. Eaton says that now that 11g testing is underway, any such product coming into the labs will “be required to be certified for both bands.” The 11a and 11g tests are still done separately, though in the future they’re may be a combined test methodology.

“We also have an inter-band roaming/handoff test for client cards to make sure the card can roam between two bands without user intervention,” says Eaton.

The Alliance announced its plans for 802.11g testing in February, long before the specification was finalized — it did this knowing a multitude of products would be available for testing immediately. That wasn’t the case with 802.11a, which, when finalized in 2002, really only had one vendor supplying chips (Atheros).

All of the 802.11g chips above also feature non-standard speed boosts, using draft-802.11e-based packet bursting to increase throughput and/or other methods, depending on the vendor. 802.11e is a specification in-progress meant to provide Quality of Service (QoS) options to future wireless LANs running video, audio, and voice traffic as well as data. Eaton says these tweaks are not included in Wi-Fi Alliance testing, as they are not part of the 11g specification, but doesn’t discount testing such things when 802.11e is finalized.

“We might add it in,” he says, “it might be good to make sure it’s interoperable.”

802.11g products are tested for backwards compatibility with 11b, simultaneous 11b and 11g client operation, and support for full 54Mbps data rate. The actual 802.11g specification from the IEEE only requires 24Mbps, with 36, 48, and 54Mbps optional.

There are five separate queues for product testing going at all times in the four labs the Alliance has contracted in (in San Jose, CA, as well as Japan, Taiwan, and England). Eaton estimates that there are about a dozen products a week receiving certification. In the first two weeks that the queues have been open to 802.11g products, the labs have already received 60 applications for testing, a response Eaton terms as “extremely positive.”

As of this week, the Wi-Fi alliance has tested 795 products from 110 companies. All those products have received Wi-Fi Certification. The non-profit Alliance was formed in 1999 under the name Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance or WECA, but changed its name to reflect the Wi-Fi branding it created for all things 802.11-based. The Alliance also has a certification program called Wi-Fi ZONE for testing public access hotspots.

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