802.11g standard approved

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE), the group responsible for setting standards in the networking industry, on Thursday approved the final specification for 802.11g, known to Mac users as AirPort Extreme. Despite recent controversy that the final spec would see a major speed reduction, very little has changed from January when Apple Computer Inc. released its first 802.11g product.

“As we indicated earlier, there have been no significant changes to the specification from the time we introduced our products,” Greg Joswiak, Apple’s vice president of Hardware Product Marketing, told MacCentral in an interview today from the company’s corporate headquarters. “We expect to release an update to our AirPort software later this month that will make us fully compliant with the final specification.”

The changes to the specification are minor and will affect how 802.11g products interact with older 802.11b (AirPort) products.

“There have been minor changes to the spec that actually make it a bit better in dealing with legacy devices and coexistence with 802.11b devices on the same network,” said Apple’s Vice President of Software, Mike Bell. “These are really minor changes that we can accommodate through firmware to bring us into compliance with the final spec.”

Late last month published reports said the final standard for 802.11g would be throttled down to 20Mbit/sec, but that wasn’t due to any actual change to the spec, according to Bell.

“802.11g is still a 54Mbit/sec standard,” said Bell. “802.11b is 11Mbit/sec, but your actual throughput is somewhere between 4 and 5-1/2Mbit/sec. The number that’s quoted is the data rate that’s used between the radios (raw data rate, which includes the protocols etc.)”

Although Apple internal tests have shown slightly higher data rates, the actual data rate for 802.11g will be approximately 20Mbit/sec, which is 4 to 5 times higher than 802.11b. Bell said the data rate has always been around 20Mbit/sec and hasn’t changed in the final draft standard.

Apple chose 802.11g because of its backward compatibility with 802.11b devices. Many of Apple’s own customers in business, education and in the home use the original AirPort for their wireless Internet access, as well as the many wireless HotSpots throughout the United States that use 802.11b.

Apple could have entered the high-speed wireless business last year if it had adopted 802.11a, which was the only option available until the release 802.11g products. With its high-speed and backward compatibility, Apple says there is no doubt who won the high-speed wireless battle.

“Everyone has publicly or privately acknowledged that this [802.11g] is the standard that wins,” said Joswiak. “It has the data rate of 802.11a, but unlike ‘a’ it is compatible with 802.11b — that of course, is something nobody wants to walk away from. There are millions of devices in schools, hotspots and homes — you cannot break that compatibility and that’s why 802.11a has been such a non-starter. It was a non-starter last year when it was the only high-rate product around and it’s certainly a non-starter this year with ‘g’ in its face.”