VARS, Vendors Grapple With latest 802.11 Rev


The proposals aim to bring the 802.11 WLAN standards closer to Ethernet speeds by allowing higher throughput for existing applications and enabling new applications for a variety of markets. However, wireless integrators such as Beverly, Mass.-based SideBand Systems are frustrated by yet another emerging WLAN standard.

"A lot of this is disturbing to customers putting in all of this infrastructure," said Jack Davis, SideBand Systems CEO. "At what point do you stop buying new wireless technology and settle on something?"

SideBand Systems focuses on deployment engineering instead of a particular 802.11-genre hardware, Davis said. "In today's economy you really have to justify any major technological leap that's going to replace wholesale infrastructure," he added.

The IEEE modifications being crafted at both the 802.11 physical layers and the 802.11 Medium Access Control layer would enable throughputs of about 100 Mbps. That rate is a vast increase from 802.11g's maximum of 54 Mbps, although 802.11g's actual throughput often does not reach maximum capacity.

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IEEE members appear to be of two minds with two different 802.11n proposals. The Task Group N (TGn) Sync camp includes Agere Systems, Intel, Sony, Nokia and Atheros. The other camp, dubbed WWiSE (World Wide Spectrum Efficiency), includes Texas Instruments, Broadcom, Conexant and Airgo Networks.

Underlying both proposals is a technology called MIMO (multiple input, multiple output), which uses parallel broadcasting through two transmitter and two receiver antennas to boost bandwidth. TGn Sync's version of 802.11n, however, would use the antennas in combination with 40MHz channels to provide an estimated 175 Mbps throughput. WWiSE members contend that using pre-existing 20MHz channels would increase network availability and will avoid potential legal issues in other countries, including Japan.

Belkin, a Compton, Calif.-based peripherals vendor focused on the consumer and SOHO markets, already offers a proprietary pre-802.11n router and notebook network interface card. The router has an estimated MSRP of $179.99, while the network card is priced at $129.99. Belkin's products are powered by Airgo's "True MIMO" technology.

A first draft of the 802.11n standard is expected sometime in 2005. Ratification isn't expected until 2006 or 2007.