802.11n Fever
Posted: 02.05 - By Katy Connor

What’s long coming, widely anticipated and already has the industry divided? Ask anyone in the Wi-Fi industry and they’ll tell you: 802.11n, of course. But what’s really telling is how they answer. “There are two camps: There’s the camp of the early adopters and the people who are paranoid,” says Greg Raleigh, CEO of Airgo Networks, a company poised to launch a series of “pre-N” products.

With the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) issuing stern warnings about marketing 802.11n-compatible products before the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ (IEEE) amendment for 802.11n is ratified, Raleigh’s statement sets the tone for the latest controversy in the battle between WFA, which is trying to build confidence in its certification process, and vendors, who are interested in market share.

Determined not to repeat the 802.11g fiasco of nearly two years ago, when both Broadcom and Linksys stampeded the group’s attempt at standardization, the WFA issued a statement with a clear message to vendors: “To help assure that Wi-Fi technology users continue to have a positive experience, the Wi-Fi Alliance will revoke the Wi-Fi certification of any product with claims of IEEE 802.11n capabilities if that product is proven to adversely impact the interoperability of other Wi-Fi-certified products.”

But as the Broadcom market grab over 802.11g proved, consumers tend to favor performance over standards; Broadcom released silicon on a hunch about what the standard would be and was rewarded with a share of the market that later-comers were hard-pressed to match. The success of Broadcom’s gamble remains a thorn to the WFA. But do vendors need that approval?

Without a doubt, the Wi-Fi logo is less recognized than, say, Intel’s Centrino; Wi-Fi is generally thought of as a generic term rather than brand name. But the WFA’s threat is not entirely toothless. The compatibility testing that the WFA provides—it organizes and runs a “plug-fest” and coordinates test results, all with the cooperation of other manufacturers—is something for vendors to consider, particularly when one of the greatest stakes is interoperability. That threat alone, of losing access to such testing, might not be enough to persuade all vendors from jumping the gun; but at least now they can’t say the WFA didn’t warn them.•


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