IEEE Meeting Ends Again Without Decision on 802.11g

For a second straight time, the Institute of
Electrical and Electronics Engineers
(IEEE) has held off on determining
the technological standard to extract data and deliver it wirelessly through
the unlicensed airwaves of the 2.4 GHz spectrum at rates of 20+ megabits per
second (Mbps), prolonging the rollout of all chipsets for next-generation
802.11g wireless LAN (WLAN) products.

However, after weeklong meetings in Portland, Ore., that were described
as “at times very contentious,” the .11g Task Group of the IEEE’s 802.11
Working Group has laid the foundation for the IEEE to ratify Intersil’s
Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) modulation scheme at its
next regularly scheduled meetings in September, which will take place in
Seattle.

Analysts concur that while the latest decision does translate to a longer
wait before next-generation product comes to market, it still validates the
nascent 802.11 WLAN industry by providing a blueprint to IT managers who
will eventually need to upgrade wireless networks. Currently, 802.11b —
which is based on a modulation scheme known as Complementary Code Keying
(CCK) — transmits data through the 2.4 spectrum at 11 Mbps, although actual
demonstrations a few weeks ago at the TechXNY trade show in New York only
exhibited data rates of 1 Mbps at best.

“It’s important for enterprise customers to see a technology roadmap.
They want to see that the technology won’t die out,” said Greg Collins, a
director at Dell’Oro Group, a Redwood City, Calif.-based market research
firm.
Recent history.

The Portland meeting was the first time that IEEE members discussed the
802.11g specification since a ran
corous debate
during the May meeting in Orlando, Fla. At that time,
Intersil’s OFDM modulation scheme beat
out Texas Instruments’ spec
, known as Packet Binary Convolution Coding
(PBCC) technology. But support for Intersil’s technology failed to reached
the 75-percent ratification threshold and a subsequent bipartisan debate
erupted on how to proceed with voting.

“We’re really pleased to see they’ve gotten through the political
nonsense,” said Chris Henningsen, vice president of marketing at Irvine, Calif.-based Intersil.

On Thursday, the Task Group reached a compromise that, as Intersil
indicates, offers very favorable terms for confirmation. Come September, the
group would vote on the Intersil proposal in multiple rounds eliminating one
dissenting opinion after another until the 75 percent threshold was reached.

“We certainly believe in the September meeting it will go through the
rounds of meetings and finally achieve the 75 percent threshold,” Intersil
spokesman John Allen told InternetNews.com.

Take the 802.11a Train

Intersil previous stated it could supply chipsets operating at 36 Mbps
by the fourth quarter and ramp up to the 54 Mbps by the second quarter of
2002. The company’s rollout plans won’t be affected by the ratification
delay, Henningsen said in a telephone interview.

Even though industry participants are forging with their rollout plans,
many industry observers still maintain the notion that .11g is merely a
migration path toward the ultimate goal of wireless connectivity via
802.11a — data transmission at 54 Mbps in the uncluttered 5 GHz spectrum as
opposed to the 2.4 GHz spectrum which is filled with microwave signals that
may interfere with data transmissions.

“I think the industry right now is trying to grapple with [the questions
of] how significant is the .11g vote and how it will affect migration to
.11a. In general, the industry consensus continues to hold that .11a
represents the long-term future of wireless LAN. The question is: is .11g
going to represent a pitstop on the way to that future or a longer resting
place?” said Navin Sabharwal, vice president of residential and networking
technologies at Allied Business Intelligence (ABI), an Oyster Bay, NY-based
think tank.

“Over time, everything will migrate to [802.11]a,” Collins concurred.

But what prevents a direct migration to 802.11a from the current 802.11b
standard isn’t simply an increase in data rates but the adoption of a
modulation scheme. As it was originally approved by the IEEE in 1999,
802.11b supported CCK and Texas Instrument’s PBCC, which was later was added
as an alternative. In fact, that was the entire argument behind TI’s push
for PBCC at the higher data rates of 802.11g — backwards compatibility with
802.11b.

But at around the time of the last IEEE meeting in May, the FCC issued an
unusual (and, to many, surprising) mandate, allowing for new wave forms to
increase data transmission rates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum. The news greatly
undercut TI’s argument for PBCC and opened the door for Intersil because,
prior to the FCC ruling, OFDM had no precedence in that part of the
spectrum. OFDM, though, is widely used in the 5 GHz space.

“Essentially what Intersil and other OFDM proponents are arguing is
regardless of what happens with the .11g vote, OFDM technology makes too
much sense to not play in the 2.4 GHz band. The question is: will OFDM be a
proprietary extension to 802.11b or will it be a standardized .11g
standard?” Sabharwal explained.

However, TI officials believe that type of zeal for OFDM in the end won’t
be good for consumers because it focuses on the technology of tomorrow
rather than what is available today. Since that ruling, TI has char
ged full-speed ahead with its rollout of products
to support the 802.11b
standard and has applied to increase PBCC’s data rates. It also has ongoing
development efforts using OFDM in the 5 GHz space.

“Making the choice of modulation is exactly the kind of thing that the
customer doesn’t cares about. What’s important is your ability to ship
ever-better product to an ever-hungrier customer base,” said Mike Hogan,
general manager of TI’s Wireless Networking Business Unit.

“Hanging too much on [OFDM] too early doesn’t help anything. The reason
we like PBCC is we have it now. Customers are already using it. It’s like
letting your technical side get ahead of your marketing side.”

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