Nonstandard tweaks no problem for Wi-Fi Alliance

Wireless LAN products with proprietary extensions won’t lose the official Wi-Fi badge, even if those extensions interfere with other Wi-Fi branded products, the Wi-Fi Alliance has admitted.

The Alliance, a marketing coalition which issues certificates to products that comply with the IEEE 802.11 wireless LAN standards, has said it was unlikely to pass judgement on allegations that the proprietary Super G speed booster technology from silicon vendor Atheros Communications Inc. caused problems with standard 802.11b and 802.11g products.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has issued a promise to make its certification program “more robust”, by refusing to certify products that extend the 802.11 specifications in ways that interfere with other devices’ functioning.

“If a product extension significantly impacts the ability of other Wi-Fi certified equipment to operate as intended, the Alliance may withhold or revoke certification,” said managing director Franz Hanzlik in a statement.

Vendors add functions and tweaks to the basic 802.11 standards, in order to get better performance. Atheros’ Super G “channel bonding” extensions — which carry more data by using more channels in the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi band — have been criticized for causing problems with neighboring conventional Wi-Fi systems.

Atheros’ rival Broadcom brought the issue up, and was backed up by the Tolly Group, although Atheros steadfastly denies any problem. The Wi-Fi Alliance has so far refused to get involved — Atheros-based kit has a Wi-Fi certification, although the Super G extensions do not, and the Alliance has not shown any signs of revoking the certificate.

The Alliance’s promise to get tough was more likely to be aimed at future products, such as the rash of nonstandard implementations that will precede the arrival of the 802.11n high-speed wireless network standard, said Nancy Gohring, of Wi-Fi Networking News.

“Most vendors believe it is unlikely that the alliance will decertify products,” said Gohring. She quoted both Hanzlik and Broadcom Corp. marketing manger David Cohen as saying the Alliance’s new stance was a “go-forward” policy, referring to future releases, and Dave Borison, product line manager at Atheros, saying: “They may be marking a line in the sand, saying be forewarned to make sure your products interoperate.”

In fact, a Wi-Fi Alliance pronouncement on Super G may be unnecessary, as Super G routers in actual use are rarely required to interoperate, according to one analyst. “Super G devices are for home usage, and the online gaming community,” said Richard Webb of Infonetics Research Inc. “It’s a fairly limited purchasing community,” and one which didn’t need interoperability, in its typical single-router installations.

The Alliance’s reticence was a pragmatic political stance, Webb said: “The Wi-Fi Alliance retain their significance if they have significant players on board. Kicking out significant players only reduces their influence. As soon as they throw their weight around and kick people off, it all becomes more tenuous.”

So does that mean the Alliance only has power if it doesn’t use it? Not exactly, Webb said, but the Alliance’s success so far has been in providing a carrot in the form of good marketing for vendors with the certificate. It hasn’t had to thrash out a noncompliance policy, he added.

“Interoperability IOP shouldn’t come at the expense of innovation,” Webb said.

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