IEEE approves 802.11g standard

A long-awaited standard for wireless LANs that offers more carrying capacity than the current IEEE 802.11b specification while using the same frequencies won final approval Thursday morning.

The new standard, 802.11g, lays out the ground rules for wireless LAN (WLAN) gear that is capable of at least 24Mbps and up to 54Mbps, while remaining backward compatible with existing 802.11b gear that runs at a maximum 11Mbps. Both use radio spectrum in the range of 2.4GHz. Another standard, 802.11a, defines 54M bps gear in the 5GHz range.

Many vendors have already been shipping equipment based on drafts of the standard for months and have said they will make those products meet the final specification through free firmware downloads. The draft products already are driving the growth of the WLAN business, which has been one of the few bright spots in a gloomy IT industry in recent years, according to market research company Dell’Oro Group Inc.

The Standards Board of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. approved the new specification at a meeting in Piscataway, New Jersey, after a standardization process that took just over three years.

Working out the details took about as long for 802.11g as for the other two 802.11 versions, but considering how the 802.11 Working Group has grown since 802.11b was approved in 1999, that’s relatively quick work, said Matthew Shoemake, chairperson of the 802.11g task group and director of advanced technologies in Texas Instruments Inc.’s WLAN business unit. He spoke late Wednesday on the eve of the expected approval.

“The number of voting members we have now is somewhere near six (to) eight times the number of voting members we had when we were working on A and B,” Shoemake said. The group now has 397 members.

Key events in the development process included a compromise between proposals by two component makers, Texas Instruments and Intersil Corp., and a rule change by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow the use of a technology called OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) in the 2.4GHz range.

The task group settled on a so-called “pure” OFDM technology and voted to include the competing OFDM proposals, which proponents said can offer better performance and efficiency under certain circumstances, as optional capabilities, Shoemake said.

Although products only have to provide a maximum 24Mbps carrying capacity to meet 802.11g’s speed requirements, the industry group Wi-Fi Alliance will require support for 54Mbps performance for its own 2.4GHz high-speed label. Shoemake said he is not aware of any current gear or planned standard products that aren’t built for 54Mbps performance.

The 802.11 Working Group will mark Thursday’s landmark vote the same way it has the other major standards approvals, Shoemake said. The celebration is set for the group’s next meeting, in San Francisco next month.

“802.11 has a ritual whenever we approve a new amendment to our standard. … We actually pop champagne and take a group photo,” Shoemake said.

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