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What’s next for Wi-Fi? Part 2

Jul 14, 20033 mins
Cellular NetworksUnified CommunicationsWi-Fi

802.11n will offer advanced radio technology bumping speeds north of 100M bit/sec.

When my colleague Keith Shaw and I recently spoke with Wi-Fi Alliance President Dennis Eaton about 802.11e, the discussion eventually drifted to other letters of the alphabet, causing me to finally break down and ask: What do they all mean and why are they all mixed up?

The IEEE 802.11 group began with “a,” which makes sense, but 802.11b was completed before 802.11a, kicking off what’s turned into alphabet anarchy.

“I need to go back and create a decoder ring now,” Eaton says, to keep track of them all. Users won’t find many of the early letters interesting. 802.11c and 802.11d involve ensuring “proper bridge operations” and that gear works overseas. 802.11e provides quality of service (see “What’s next for Wi-Fi? Part 1).

802.11f ensures the access points from different vendors will support roaming. 802.11i is all about security. 802.11j involves some extensions for the Japanese 5 GHz frequency.  802.11k has something to do with resource management, and 802.11l was skipped because it looks like 802.11i. 802.11m is for maintenance.  Now you know.

All of this brings us to 802.11n, which could be interesting.  Eaton says 802.11n will be the next generation radio standard, and provide more than 100M bit/sec throughput. Not data rate like 802.11b’s 11M bit/sec or 802.11g and 802.11a’s 54M bit/sec, but throughput, actual speeds, which are typically half the data rate. 

Although the spec won’t be completed for at least three years, and early details are sketchy, Eaton says 802.11n will be built from the ground up, and not resemble any of these “turbo mode” chipsets coming out now from Intersil and Atheros, which boast data rates of 108M bit/sec.  Actual throughput is probably around 46M bit/sec, experts say. 

“We’ll probably create some fairly fancy antenna technology, probably use multiple radios to improve throughput, things like that,” Eaton says. “There are a number of start-ups out there that are developing this advanced technology right now.”

The 802.11n study group has just transformed into the 802.11n working group. Next, it will draft the requirements used to generate the standard, then have a call for proposals. “I’d expect they’ll get 20 or more,” Eaton says.

Twenty or more companies vying to have their technologies adopted as the 802.11n standard?  Of course, they’ll get whittled down to just a few, but even so.  Start-ups looking at waiting three years or more before having the chance to have their technology standardized could certainly come to market with pre-standard products – again creating confusion.

“I think you’ll probably see that,” Eaton says. 

Allen Nogee, principal analyst at research firm In-Stat/MDR doubts there will be much interest in 802.11n. “It seems to be more of an attempt to keep ‘the next big think’ chugging along. Now if they created a technology that could double the range of the 54M bit/sec standards, that might be interesting.”