Faster Wi-Fi Standard Approved

802.11n gains IEEE stamp of approval as Wi-Fi firms announce new products.

By Ed Sutherland | Posted Jan 20, 2006
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The only thing quicker than yesterday's approval by the IEEE of a faster Wi-Fi technology may be the rapid introduction of products supporting the newly minted 802.11n.

Approved Thursday by a 184-0 vote, the draft standard claims faster speeds and more reliable Wi-Fi connections. Using Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO) technology, 802.11n boasts up to 600Mbps and increased range compared to the current Wi-Fi spec.

The draft standard with its increased speed and range likely will open the use of Wi-Fi in devices beyond computers, such as video, voice and gaming. In anticipation of broader markets, a number of companies allied with the winning Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC) proposal announced new products.

Earlier this month, EWC, formed in 2005 outside the IEEE process by Intel, Broadcom and others, won the IEEE's confidence after a long battle between competing groups TGnSync and WWise.

Broadcom, a leading Wi-Fi chipmaker, hours after Thursday's vote, announced the Intensi-fi chipset, promising 300Mbps performance for a wide range of consumer devices, including set-top boxes.

Broadcom was able to capture the 802.11g chip market by announcing products based on a draft version of that standard. Today 80 percent of the Wi-Fi market is based on 802.11g, according to Bill Bunch, Broadcom's director of product management.

The chipmaker brushed aside criticism the early products might not be compatible with the eventual ratified version of an 802.11n standard.

"We could have launched proprietary products much sooner," the Broadcom executive told internetnews.com. For months, Airgo, which helped develop the MIMO technology at the core of 802.11n, marketed its own True MIMO brand of consumer products.

Marvell, a member of the EWC alliance, today also announced they were already shipping their 802.11n-compatible 88W836X chipsets aimed at audio and video devices.

Atheros, another chipmaker involved in EWC, envisions 802.11n used to distribute video. "Before, Wi-Fi has been pretty stretched," says Bill McFarland, Atheros chief technical officer.

Cellular-like voice systems are a possibility with the new standard. Up to 50 wireless VoIP handsets could connect to 802.11n Wi-Fi routers, according to McFarland.

Atheros believes 802.11n could replace 100Mbps wired Ethernet connections. At the recent CES tradeshow, the company demoed its XSPAN chips for consumer Wi-Fi products.

"802.11n is a very significant step forward," said McFarland. The EWC achieved its goal to "break the 802.11n stalemate and accelerate a draft that defines significantly higher wireless LAN performance," according to a statement from Craig Barratt, president and CEO of Atheros.

Since the debate began in 2003 over the direction of 802.11n, "the consensus was a lot stronger" than previous standards battles, such as 802.11g, according to Bunch.

Will the new 802.11n standard be embraced like the current Wi-Fi? "We'll see tremendous adoption," predicts McFarland.

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