IEEE Unable to Agree on 802.11g Standards

Members of the Institute

of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) this week adjourned

their meeting without reaching a consensus on specifications to be used

on chipsets for all next-generation 802.11g products—which are capable

of transmitting data at 20 Mbps.

Industry observers have been keenly watching the outcome of the Orlando,

Fla., meeting for specifications that would essentially double the current

data transmission rates, enabling true multimedia wire-free streaming

over the unlicensed 2.4GHz spectrum space.

Split-brain

But the meeting of about 175 members turned into a two-way contest between

Intersil, which submitted one proposal

known as Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) modulation,

and Texas Instruments (TI), which has

developed its own Packet Binary Convolution Coding (PBCC) technology.

TI’s proposal was taken out of the running in a preliminary voting round

on Wednesday after not garnering majority support by the IEEE’s 802.11g

Task Force.

“There’s not going to be an 11g standard coming out of Orlando,” TI’s

Wireless Networking Business General Manager Mike Hogan told InternetNews.com

in a telephone interview. “In the end, no vote was taken which we thought

was unfortunate because we wanted to get some work done…it’s clear we’re

not out of the woods in picking an 11g standard.”

In order for Intersil’s OFDM specification—which is now the sole

candidate to be considered by the IEEE—to proceed, over 75 percent

of the Task Force needed to ratify the proposal. After which, it would

have then gone to the IEEE’s larger 802.11 Working Group for procedural

voting before officially becoming an IEEE recommendation. But complicating

matters on Thursday was a two-hour procedural debate among members of

the .11g Task Force.

According to officials from Irvine, Calif.-based Intersil, the bipartisan

rancor was sparked after .11g Task Force Chairman Matthew B. Shoemake,

Ph.D., ruled that Intersil’s OFDM would no longer be considered because

the proposal couldn’t muster the support of 75 percent of the group—the

mandatory threshold. (Shoemake is a TI official of Alantro Communications,

which the Dallas-based multinational acquired last summer for $300 million

to support its PBCC development efforts.)

If OFDM was eliminated for consideration by the IEEE, the Task Force

would have been forced to essentially go back to the drawing board, requesting

new proposals be resubmitted. But citing statutes from the IEEE Proposal

Selection Process, Jim Zyren, Director of Marketing at Intersil’s PRISM

Wireless Products business, appealed the chairman’s ruling.

Zyren’s appeal was subsequently upheld; however, after the two-hour debate,

no time was left for voting.

“I think the consensus of the group is they’d like to move forward,”

Zyren told InternetNews.com in an interview.

Taskmaster

The IEEE certainly has other items on its agenda, working on other specifications

such as 802.11e—for voice transmission and security and .11a—which

promises data rates of 54 Mbps. Because of the current limitations of

802.11b technology, promising only theoretical transmission speeds of

11 Mbps, company officials from California to Canada are anxiously anticipating

the arrival of high-speed capabilities.

“What .11g offers is how to get to higher data rates without large incremental

costs,” explained Navin Sabharwal, vice president of residential and networking

technologies at Allied Business Intelligence (ABI), an Oyster Bay, NY-based

think tank.

Intersil’s OFDM proposal now will go before the IEEE’s .11g Task Force

for ratification at its Portland, Ore., meeting in July. Members will

vote round-robin style until the 75-percent threshold can be met. If,

for example, only 60 percent ratify, the remaining 40 percent would be

asked to modify the proposal, etc., until 75 percent is obtained.

“I’m very optimistic that we’re going to cross the 75-percent threshold

at the July meeting,” Zyren said.

This round-robin procedure of voting-and-modifying was the case in 1999

during the adoption of 802.11b. Then, Intersil ultimately convinced supporters

of a proposal from Lucent Technologies to back a hybrid specification

for transmitting data at 11Mbps. But Zryen explained the present case

involving Intersil and TI is dramatically different.

“With 802.11b, we had 2 proposals that had common ground. OFDM is a multiple-carrier

proposal. PBCC is a single-carrier proposal. It’s is very difficult to

find common ground because the two proposals are so different. No mutually

acceptable compromise position has been identified.”

To be sure, TI officials emphasized that IEEE’s inaction won’t hamper

its development in WLANs.

“If anyone was to think that the vote on Wednesday would dramatically

impact our plan for wireless LAN, that’s just not true,” TI’s Hogan said.

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