IEEE finally approves 802.11n standard

The Wi-Fi foundation for years to come

Earlier today the IEEE finally approved the 802.11n standard. The Wi-Fi Alliance will update its Wi-Fi testing/certification program by September 30 to reflect a few optional additions made to the standard since draft 2.0 was approved in early 2007.

The Alliance has been astoundingly successful in creating a new brand, Wi-Fi, and making it the widely-used shorthand for wireless connectivity based on the IEEE 802.11 standards.

It's also been successful in introducing 150+Mbps connectivity, by making a calculated reversal at the end of 2006 of its long-standing policy of NOT certifying wireless gear until the IEEE had dotted all the i's and crossed all the t's for a new standard. (Check out our 802.11n timeline)

Instead, the WFA decided that that the draft 2.0 version of the standard was solid enough to be deployed in products. The interoperability testing it sponsored went a long way in convincing consumers and, more surprisingly, enterprises, that 11n was worth investing in early.

In an upcoming "Network World" article, wireless expert and NW blogger Craig Mathias, notes that 11n establishes the technical foundation for Wi-Fi for years to come. In addition, he says, the implementations of 11n in client adapters and access points, covers an unprecedented range of capabilities and performance. As a result, 11n appear in a range of price points.

It will also push Wi-Fi into the largely unused 5Ghz band, with many more channels than the heavily subscribed 2.4GHz band.

That flexibility will mean more complexity, and more complex decisions, for enterprise IT. It will also likely prompt more widespread deployment of 802.1x authentication coupled with Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) for securing enterprise WLANs.

Apart from the technical considerations, 11n Wi-Fi is already setting new expectations for wireless. As Morrissville State College, the unlikely site of the first large-scale 11n deployment in the U.S., has discovered, the new expectation among students is that wireless be "wicked fast." For these students, wicked fast necessarily implies "available wherever and whenever I need it." And that expectation in turn reflects the continuing rise of Wi-Fi as an essential networking technology, not a convenience.

Just today, for example, Macrumors.com reported that iFixit's tear-down of a new Apple iPod touch (the "Wi-Fi-only iPhone") uncovered a Broadcom radio chip that can apparently support 11n, though Apple hasn't activated it yet. We'll soon see cost-effective mobile 11n implementations, though the real challenge will be creating a lower-power chip.

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