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Stick with standards – if you can find ’em

Jan 28, 20043 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork SecurityWi-Fi

* Vendors in glass houses...

You may have noticed that the wireless LAN biz is pretty cutthroat these days. Vendors are quick to point out flaws in competitors’ products and technology.

And you know what they say about people who live in glass houses.

If you’ve read my recent coverage of the potential interference effects of Atheros’ Super G technology, you’ll know that Atheros competitor Broadcom got the ball rolling on this issue at Comdex last November.

Meanwhile, Broadcom itself recently announced a nonstandard 125M-bit/sec chip (called “Afterburner”) that is “802.11g-like.” Broadcom sanctions Afterburner with the rationale that it doesn’t use up more than one channel (as Super G does) to achieve the higher speeds.

But is Afterburner standard? No. Is it interoperable with non-Afterburner, 802.11g-compliant clients? No. Is it useful? Possibly – just like many other nonstandard innovations.  Including Atheros’ Super G.

At a session I moderated at Comdex, Cisco Aironet WLAN product line manager Ron Seide vehemently advised against using Super G. He highly recommended using only “industry-standard” products.

Sounds reasonable. And Cisco supports standards, certainly. But it has plenty of its own proprietary stuff, too.

In fact, Cisco advocates that its users stick with its own proprietary LEAP authentication protocol and version of Temporal Key Integrity Protocol, even now that Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) is the industry-standard for WLAN authentication and encryption. The highly visible Cisco-Compatible Extensions (CCX) program, in fact, is all about getting as many clients as possible to support Cisco’s own technology.

Is that useful? Yes, for existing Cisco customers who don’t want to throw out their LEAP-based products. Do you want to use CCX technology forever? Probably not.

It gets increasingly harder to tell if you are even using standards. Note, for example: Atheros told me their Super G chips only run in “dynamic” mode. This mode lets 802.11b, 802.11g, and Super G products interoperate – a point for the “standards” column. And, says Atheros, Super G initiates the 108M-bit/sec channel bonding only when the application requires the bandwidth.

However, Netgear’s Web site says its Super G access points run only in “static mode”-whereby devices will only talk to other Super-G devices and channel bonding is always enabled (demerit to the “standards” column). A footnote, though, indicates that Netgear will soon also support Super G dynamic mode.

Tim Higgins, an independent network product tester who posts his findings at, offers the following advice: “If you worry about being standards compliant, shut off special nonstandard modes. If a vendor didn’t give me the flexibility to shut them off, I wouldn’t buy them.”