Faster Wi-Fi approach wins broader support

Warring factions of vendors have reached an agreement to cooperate on development of the next high-speed wireless LAN standard, and IEEE standards officials this week said that the planned joint proposal could be ready for an initial vote in November.

The three factions said at an 802.11n task-force meeting held this month in San Francisco that they are “working together to create a single merged proposal,” according to a short statement from the task force issued by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc.

The proposed standard is expected to be available at an 802.11n meeting in Orange County, Calif., during the week of Sept. 18 and should be ready for review and a possible vote by the entire 802.11 working group in November, said Nancy Vogtli, the working group’s publicity chairman.

The progress was welcomed by Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the Austin-based Wi-Fi Alliance trade group. Hanzlik described 802.11n as a “turbo-charged” version of the existing Wi-Fi standards because it would quadruple effective data throughput over WLANs to up to 100Mbit/sec. at a range of 300 feet.

That kind of throughput would make 802.11n “fast enough for enterprise networking,” Hanzlik said. For example, companies could use the technology to send high-quality design drawings and video files over internal Wi-Fi networks, he said.

But Craig Richardville, vice president of information systems at Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte, N.C., said he’s concerned about the potential cost of upgrading to 802.11n-based equipment.

Richardville described the promised speed of 802.11n as “positive.” But, he said, “we want to ensure we can continue to grow without replacing equipment. I would hope as new standards evolve that we’d probably stay current with minimal investment.”

Carolinas HealthCare has more than 500 wireless access points running 802.11b/g that serve its 14 hospitals. Richardville said the company plans to double the number of access points over the next 18 months.

Hanzlik said that, aside from faster throughput, 802.11n will rely on using several antennas rather than one per access point — a technology called Multiple Input, Multiple Output, or MIMO.

MIMO takes multiple snapshots of the same signal and combines them to make it more accurate, something desirable for applications such as video over Wi-Fi.

According to IEEE documents, the merged proposal will be created by three groups: TGn Sync, which is backed by Intel Corp.; wWise, which is supported by Texas Instruments Inc.; and Mitmot.

Hanzlik said he expects 802.11n to be formally ratified and published as an IEEE standard in the first quarter of 2007. When that happens, the Wi-Fi Alliance will offer a certification process for products built to conform to the standard, he said.

With so much time before new products appear, buyers of Wi-Fi technology should “stick with 802.11a/g technology for now,” said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc. He said those standards will fulfill most needs for another four years. Any vendor that claims a current Wi-Fi product is upgradable to 802.11n is “unscrupulous,” he said.

The 802.11n technology will mature in early 2008, he said. But its full capabilities will not be realized until at least 2010, when voice-over-IP systems and other applications will be more common.

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