Sparks fly following 802.11n settlement

Sparks fly following 802.11n settlement

The ink has scarcely dried on the draft standard for a new generation of high-speed Wi-Fi and already competing companies are at each other's throats.

Friday's agreement on a draft standard for 802.11n -- the fast Wi-Fi technology designed to reach speeds of up to 300 Mbit/s -- ended a more than year-long standoff between competing specifications. Now, various players are accusing one another of dirty tricks in an effort to gain an edge in the market. One of the details at stake is a compatibility issue that could affect the way eventual products are deployed in the enterprise.

The conflict now is over how and when such issues will be resolved. Competing chipmakers, such as Airgo and Atheros, last week agreed that draft one of the standard will only need minor changes.

But the two sides seem to have very different ideas about what constitutes "minor changes." Atheros, Broadcom and Marvell are already showing silicon designed to support the upcoming standard, while Airgo -- which has three generations of proprietary fast Wi-Fi products already on the market -- is holding off until the standard has had one or two more revisions.

Airgo chief executive Greg Raleigh said Airgo's competitors are being reckless when they claim that draft one is basically complete. "There are some irresponsible claims out there," he said. "A group of silicon vendors wanted to halt after draft one."

One of the problems that remains to be fixed relates to how 802.11n products will act when older Wi-Fi networks are operating nearby, Raleigh said. A core feature of 802.11n will be a double-wide channel mode that can increase throughput substantially, but risks degrading the performance of other networks nearby.

Airgo is claiming that this and other serious issues might not be resolved properly, in order to allow its competitors to finalize their silicon earlier. "Bluntly, Airgo is saying that its competitors would risk destroying the performance or utility of existing 802.11b/g in order to capture part of Airgo's current proprietary, higher-margin business," said Glenn Fleishman on wireless industry blog Wi-Fi Net News.

Atheros' take, not surprisingly, is quite different. The company's CTO, Bill McFarland, said that features had been built into draft one to deal with the interference issue, and all that has to be decided is whether the features are mandatory or not. In a report, he described the issue as "overblown". Cisco and Motorola are chairing an ad-hoc group to try and resolve the problem.

The standard is unlikely to be finalized until late this year, with products appearing next year. However, Airgo's fast Wi-Fi products are already available, and other companies may begin marketing "pre-standard" products this year.

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