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Hi-Speed Wi-Fi Standard Finally Gets The Nod

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Author: WildC@rd

The draft specification of the 802.11n standard for the new generation of Wi-Fi, which will provide speeds as as blazing as 600 Mb/s, finally won IEEE approval yesterday after more than a year of wrangling; although technically only a draft specification, with perhaps a year of work to final ratification, the rush to market began almost instantly, with both Broadcom and Marvell claiming to be first to market with products conforming to the new spec. 802.11n, which will eventually replace the current 802.11a/b/g, starts out by delivering 100 Mb/s but, with the use of multiple data streams and multiple antennas, it can deliver up to 600 Mb/s using arrays of multiple-in, multiple-out (MIMO) antennas in 2x2, 3x3 or 4x4 configurations. For now, most players in the industry are promising only 300 Mb/s. The adoption of the standard had long been stymied by a deadlock between proponents of two incompatible competing proposals called WwiSE and TGn Sync, each group backed by a clutch of powerful players. At one point in the middle of last year, it even looked like the 802.11n standards would simply die (TelecomWeb news break, May 26, 2005), suffering the same ignominious fate as the IEEE’s proposed 802.15.3a ultra wideband specification, which crashed and burned (TelecomWeb new break, Jan. 19) roughly 24 hours before the 802.11n draft specification was approved. The IEEE Task Force working on the UWB spec had simply decided there was no way to reconcile the competing groups, so voted to disband and, as of now, there is no UWB standards effort. What saved 802.11n from the same fate was the emergence in September 2005 of a previously secret group calling itself the Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC) that included Broadcom, Intel, Atheros and Marvell – which combined account for a majority of the Wi-Fi chip market – that hammered out a compromise 802.11n proposal outside of the confines of the IEEE Task Group (TelecomWeb news break, Sept. 14, 2005). The group included key players of both WwiSE and TGn Sync (Intel, leader of the new group, was a member of TGn Sync; Broadcom was in WwiSE). That proposal now has been approved, at least in draft form. While a draft still isn’t a standard, barring unforeseen issues, very little change is typically made to key specs once an IEEE draft is approved. That often opens the door to rapid product introductions, typically with those products including some kind of field-upgradeable memory, such as flash memory, to allow for tinkering if there are any changes between the draft and final versions of a specification. Customers of such products are not, however, guaranteed of conformance or interoperability between different vendors’ implementations – that can only happen after a final spec is approved and testing labs have run products through their paces. The Rush To Market Still, in many markets – particularly in the consumer market where much of 802.11n sales will take place initially – buyers often pay scant attention to such niceties. With that in mind, both Broadcom and Marvell have rushed to market. Broadcom, for instance, said that its new chipset, a family called Intensi-fi, “incorporates all mandatory elements of the IEEE 802.11n draft specification and is designed to be software upgradeable once the standard is finalized.” The initial Intensi-fi offering is a MAC/baseband chip and a radio chip, and Broadcom says t is ready to start sampling the silicon. Marvell, meanwhile, stuck out its tongue and said it already has gone to market with a chip that meets the new draft spec – and it is already starting to ship in production quantities, not just sampling. “The Marvell 88W836X family, first announced in October 2005, complies 100 percent with the IEEE 802.11n draft specification,” the company claims. It also claims to have on hand five reference designs for products that meet the 802.11n draft spec. As far as interoperability goes – which is, after all, a key reason for having standards – just about everyone in the industry pledged interop as one of their 802.11n goals. Broadcom also pointed to a string of so-called “pre-n” wireless products that have dribbled out onto the market during the past year or so, all with higher data rates than the standards-compliant 802.11 offering. “Broadcom anticipates that the creation of the 802.11n standard will clarify the high-end of the wireless LAN market, alleviating consumer confusion caused by the non-compatible, proprietary solutions that have been previously introduced,” the company says.
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