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Wi-Fi group says 'no' to pre-standard 802.11n kit

Unlikely to trouble too many WLAN vendors

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The Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) today formally avowed its aversion to so-called 'pre-standard' wireless products by pledging not to certify kit featuring 802.11n technologies until the standard has been ratified by the IEEE.

That's not expected to take place until November 2006, but if past versions of Wi-Fi are anything to go by, a number of WLAN chip makers and equipment makers will undoubtedly try to beat the rest to market by offering products that match the latest draft specification.

That happened with both 802.11b and 802.11g, particularly the latter, as vendors attempted to steal a march on their rivals.

Now, with even more of the world running wireless networks, the WFA fears there's a far greater opportunity for confusing consumers and businesses, which will do little to progress the concepts of standards and interoperability.

The WFA also threatened to withdraw Wi-Fi certification from products that claim to offer IEEE 802.11n capabilities but adversely affect the interoperability of other Wi-Fi certified products. It has to do this anyway, of course, since its existence is founded on the maintenance of interoperability between products carrying the Wi-Fi brand. Whether it will make a difference, however, is doubtful.

Vendors may choose to offer pre-standard 802.11n kit that doesn't offer backwards compatibility, but as the 802.11b to 802.11g not 802.11a upgrade path has shown, backwards compatibility is something most WLAN buyers value. And if your 802.11n component interferes with the necessary 802.11b/g backward compatibility module, you'll lose your 802.11b/g certification.

But that's unlikely to bother many of the newer, Asia Pacific-based WLAN chip makers who could see 802.11n as a way of beating the established players. Plenty of 802.11 kit coming out of the Far East doesn't come with the Wi-Fi logo, and the vendors - or their customers - don't seem to bothered by the fact.

As for the better-known names, well the pre-standard 802.11g releases may have caused a few early interoperability headaches, but vendors were quick to offer updates once the standard had been approved. Is that approach - and, like it, the addition pre-standard 802.11n - any worse than the so-called 'standards plus' kit that offer to extend 802.11a/b/g's range and/or data throughput, but only with equipment from the same supplier?

Again, the WFA has expressed its dissatisfaction with these products and threatened to revoke their Wi-Fi certification if they're proved to reduce Wi-Fi interoperability. But nothing it has said or done has prevented Atheros, Broadcom, Agere, Globespan Virata and all the others from offering such products. And today's announcement won't stop anyone shipping pre-ratification 802.11n kit either. ®

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