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Early birds stung by 802.11n vote

Posted: 11 May 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:WLAN standard? 802.11n? Interop? Loring Wirbel?

Chip vendors that offered 802.11n products without a draft spec in place now stand to suffer, developers warned after the WLAN standard was soundly rejected last week.

News of the standard's failure in its first letter ballot sped through the Interop show in Las Vegas, generating groans, snickers and eye rolls. The consensus among both developers and users: Even though draft glitches are normal in the IEEE's 802 LAN/MAN standards process, perception trumps reality, and chip vendors offering "pre-draft" products will feel the heat.

The 802.11n working group turned down draft 1.0 of the standard, which seeks to use multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) technology to push 802.11 speeds beyond 100Mbps. Not only did the draft fail to achieve the 75 percent supermajority necessary for approval, it fell short of even a simple majority, gathering a positive vote of only 46.6 percent. The process will not necessarily require a 2.0 draft, but comments on the proposal could lead to significant revisions, many of which could be implemented in software.

At Interop, several OEM customers at a Trapeze Networks cocktail party suggested Cisco/Linksys and others that hustled to put retail products on store shelves this spring will have their credibility hurt even more than suppliers of media-access controllers and PHY chips offering 802.11n productsBroadcom Corp., Marvell Semiconductor Inc. and Atheros Communications Inc.

Wi-Fi chipset vendors responded predictably. Those that had cautioned against jumping the 802.11n gun, including Airgo Networks and Metalink, reiterated their warning that it is too early to develop access point or client products with the multi-antenna 802.11n. Metalink recommended that customers not take products to market now. That was seen as particularly relevant, since the DSL and wireless specialist already has demonstrated RF channel bonding and MIMO spatial multiplexing at trade shows.

On the other side, Bill Bunch, director of WLAN product marketing at Broadcom, called the vote "widely expected." Atheros predicted little change in a mid-2007 .11n draft, and CTO Bill McFarland said the early no vote "does not indicate there will be radical changes to the standard."

Interop attendees agreed that the final shakeout may vindicate Broadcom and Atheros, but that in the short term, chip customers and end users will concur that "draft-N" products are in the market too early. One marketing engineer at a developer of USB adapters for 802.11g, who asked not to be named "because I'm no friend of Broadcom or Atheros," said he nevertheless sympathized with their arguments-to a point.

"Is this normal in all the 802 groups?" he said. "Yes, but the fact that we have to go through multiple comment periods just reinforces the message that these guys were too early in offering 802.11n products. What worries me more is that many of the 802 working groups seem broken, in the sense of being burdened by politics, and I'm betting that many in the first-round draft did not vote it down over issues of channel interference, but in a spirit of revenge."

John DiGiovanni, director of marketing at enterprise mesh developer Xirrus Inc., said that a lengthened 802.11n process will mean virtually nothing to those working on enterprise and municipal backbone and mesh products. "The only sense of urgency was coming from the residential market, and I'm not so sure the need to rush this was even that important there," DiGiovanni said. "In the enterprise, developers still are working on the issue of moving to the 5GHz band, and trying to adopt MIMO is going to be a long process. This means next to nothing for our plans."

- Loring Wirbel
EE Times

John Walko contributed to this article




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