Wi-Fi vendors slammed for 802.11n hype

Wi-Fi vendors slammed for 802.11n hype

Gartner has heavily criticized Wi-Fi vendors for claiming that recently-launched products comply with the yet-to-be-finalized 802.11n standard.

The criticism follows on the heels of tests from the likes of Farpoint Group, which discovered numerous shortcomings with the pre-802.11n gear.

Among Farpoint's findings was that hardware from Airgo that doesn't claim compliance with draft 802.11n, but uses technology expected to be in the final 802.11n specification, performed significantly better than rival "compliant" gear.

The IEEE approved a draft of 802.11n in January, after much infighting, and since then several companies have released products claiming to comply with the draft. A few noted by Gartner, released in April, are the Wireless-N Broadband Router and Wireless-N Notebook Adapter from Cisco's Linksys division, and the RangeMax Next device from Netgear.

The standard is expected to allow Wi-Fi gear to attain significantly faster transmission speeds, which will maintain quality at longer distances and will be more resistant to interference, largely through a technology called MIMO (Multiple In Multiple Out). However, Gartner believes the standard will not be ratified until next year, with truly certified products shipping in the first half of 2007.

Because the final standard is so far off, Gartner believes marketing rhetoric around the draft standard is necessarily misleading. "In conversations with Gartner, customers have told us that they believe that the inclusion of 802.11n 'on the package' suggests to them that the product they are purchasing will one day be compliant with 802.11n," wrote Gartner's Ken Dulaney and Rachna Ahlawat in a research note.

However, current gear is likely to require upgrades for full compliance, Gartner said. "Gartner believes that current statements regarding 802.11n compliance are simply inflated marketing rhetoric," wrote Dulaney and Ahlawat.

Larger companies should therefore steer clear of pre-standard gear, since it could have compatibility problems with earlier hardware and with pre-N gear from other manufacturers. "With the exception of specialized short-term needs, interoperability through standards compliance must not suffer," Dulaney and Ahlawat wrote. "You should wait until the standard is ratified and Wi-Fi certification is implemented."

On the other hand, smaller companies and consumers should be able to benefit from the new hardware regardless of its compliance, since their features should be significantly better than those in previous generations of Wi-Fi equipment, Dulaney and Ahlawat said. "If you are evaluating WLAN products advertised to support any version of draft 802.11n, ignore this labelling. Look at the product features as stand-alone capabilities without any guarantee of interoperability with any other 802.11n products," they wrote.

So far, testers have not been impressed by draft-standard hardware. Farpoint Group found that the draft-standard products it tested were unable to connect at any faster speed or across any greater distance than existing 802.11g products.

The company tested Buffalo Technology's AirStation Nfiniti router and client, using Broadcom's draft standard Intensi-fi chipset, and Netgear's RangeMax client and routers using chips from Broadcom or Marvell.

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