Wireless Goes To Next Level With 802.11N

High-speed wireless products for very small office and home environments based on the initial draft of 802.11n have begun arriving from vendors such as Linksys, Buffalo Technology, D-Link, NetGear, Airgo Networks and Hewlett-Packard. These early draft n-standard products aim to deliver much of the promise of 802.11n with wireless data streaming rates as high as 600 Mbps and three times the range of g-standard gear.

But deployment of these souped-up offerings includes some risk, vendors concede. The final 802.11n standard is not expected to be ratified until sometime in 2007, and already version 1.0 of the draft-n standard received a thumbs down when the IEEE attempted to ratify it in last month. Substantial differences between the draft versions of the n-standard and the final standard could degrade performance depending on which standard the products were built with. But solution providers say the products' relatively low cost makes early adoption low risk.

Linksys, Irvine, Calif., introduced six new products based on the draft of the 802.11n standard, which was adopted by the IEEE in January. Access points, wireless gateways and single- and dual-band routers are part of Linksys' offerings, including the dual-band WRT600N router, which delivers faster data rates and a wider wireless coverage area and starts at about $199, says Malachy Moynihan, vice president of engineering and product marketing.

The 802.11n standard uses multiple antenna and radio configurations to achieve data streaming rates ranging from 75 Mbps to 600 Mbps. The n-standard is backward compatible to former a-, b- and g-standard products and has a range three times that of g-standard equipment, he says.

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D-Link, Fountain Valley, Calif., is rolling out its RangeBooster N 650 series of wireless routers and network adapters based on the draft-n specification. Draft-n products from Belkin, Compton, Calif., are expected to arrive shortly, company representatives say. HP's ProCurve networking division also began shipping n-standard wireless products.

Buffalo Technology, Austin, Texas, recently introduced its first draft 802.11n products in the form of its AirStation Nfinity line of routers and PCI adapters, says Brian Verenkoff, product manager. The Buffalo products start in the range of about $150, Verenkoff says, adding he is confident the draft-n products meet the promise of the standard, even though absolute forward compatibility to the final n-standard cannot be guaranteed. "Any changes made at this point to the standard will probably be extremely minor," he says.

The relative low cost of the new draft-n products takes much of the risk out of deploying the products ahead of the final standard, says Steven Miller, CEO of Pacific Voice and Data, an integrator in Union City, Calif., which resells a range of products from Belkin, D-Link and others. Most important is ongoing vendor support of not only the draft-n standard products, but g-standard products as well, Miller says. "You have to figure out a way to support them going forward, regardless of what the standard is," he says.

NetGear recently released its RangeMax Next line of draft 802.11n wireless products. With speeds up to 300 Mbps, the RangeMax Next menu includes routers, switches, DSL modems, PCI adapters and access points. A RangeMax Next Wireless Networking Kit Gigabit Edition also is available, which delivers both a wireless router and notebook adapter.

For integrators looking to build faster wireless networks atop existing products from NetGear and Linksys that are based on Airgo Gen 3 True Mimo (multi-input multi-output) routers, Airgo Networks, Palo Alto, Calif., recently rolled out USB 2.0 adapters for the NetGear RangeMax 240 and Linksys SRX 400. Using the multi-antenna approach of Mimo, the Airgo adapters can jump-start many legacy wireless networks into faster-than-Ethernet wireless environments, according to Airgo.

--Dan Neel