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Where's MIMO?

Political standoff in IEEE slows progress of much-anticipated 100M bit/sec WLAN standard.

By Craig Mathias, Network World
October 31, 2005 12:04 AM ET

Network World - There is one great truth in anything high tech -- faster is always better. Which is why customers are eagerly anticipating 802.11n wireless LAN products that promise greater throughput, not to mention greater range and reliability, than today's 801.11a/b/g/ products.

But if you're looking to buy standards-based, Wi-Fi Alliance-approved, enterprise-ready 802.11n Multiple-Input, Multiple-Output (MIMO) gear, you'll will have to wait while competing vendor groups hash out their differences.

Even though the 802.11n effort has been ongoing within the IEEE since 2002, don't expect to see a final standard nailed down until the end of 2006 and don't expect to see products until 2007. For example, 802.11n handsets for voice over Wi-Fi won't be available for at least a year after the standard is finished, because of the complexity of engineering such a device.

The IEEE standards development process is designed to assure that standards are broadly acceptable and have sufficient validity to serve even in legal proceedings.

The process is rigorous from the start. Before the IEEE approves a standards effort, a proposal must meet several criteria: broad market potential, inter-layer compatibility, an identity distinct from other 802 standards, technical feasibility and economic feasibility.

Once a Program Authorization Request (PAR) is approved, subsequent work is subject to five principles: due process, consensus (it takes a 75% vote to pass a standard), openness, balance (broad representation of interests) and the right of appeal.

The PAR for MIMO was approved in September 2003. The group initially received 36 proposals, which were reduced to four in January 2005, then to two.

TGnSync vs. WWiSE (vs. EWC?)

One proposal called TGnSync includes Agere, Atheros, Cisco, Intel, Qualcomm and Symbol Technologies. The key TGnSync position is the support of wider bandwidth channels (40 MHz vs. 20 MHz used in 802.11), potentially simplifying the design of standards-based products.

The other proposal is called WWiSE and includes Airgo Networks (the first company to build a pre-802.11n or MIMO Enhanced WLAN [MEW] chipset), Broadcom, Conexant, HP, Motorola, Siemens and Texas Instruments. An interesting element of WWiSE is a royalty-free contribution of intellectual property, potentially lowering costs for products based on the standard. Both groups were asked to meet offline and work out their differences, with a final agreement expected by next month, because neither group had been able to get 75% approval.

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