Faster Wi-Fi Standard Moves Forward

The task group working on a new, faster standard for Wi-Fi, called 802.11n, has settled on a draft proposal that will now be refined into a final specification.

Approval of the draft 802.11n spec ends a long struggle between camps backing two main proposals for the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) standard. Both would have used multiple antennas to achieve the real-world throughput of at least 100 megabits per second that the original 802.11n proposal calls for.

The plan approved Thursday at a general meeting of the IEEE 802.11n Working Group in Kona, Hawaii, was based on a proposal announced last fall by the Enhanced Wireless Consortium, a group of Working Group members formed outside of the IEEE. An EWC statement said the draft proposal, which includes modifications from a committee within the IEEE's Working Group, will support throughput of up to 600 mbps.

There is still work to do on the draft before it can be ratified as a final standard, according to Bill McFarland, chief technology officer of Atheros Communications and a voting member of the task group. Once the proposal has been formatted according to IEEE rules, it will go out to a group of engineers across the 802.11 Working Group, which is responsible for all wireless LAN standards. Those engineers will point out problems if they see them, and the draft will be modified and put to more votes until it gets more than 75 percent approval among those voters, McFarland says.

Finally, an even broader group of IEEE members will vote on final ratification. McFarland believes that is likely to happen near the end of this year or in early 2007. However, products built according to the draft specification should reach customers around the middle of this year, according to McFarland.

In the past, Wi-Fi products based on draft standards have been marketed with the promise of upgradeability to the final standard via firmware.

On Thursday, immediately following word of the confirmation vote, Broadcom--a major Wi-Fi chip vendor--announced the availability of a family of chip sets that it claims are the first to comply with the draft. The chip sets, called Intensi-fi, include ones that could be used in routers, notebook PCs, and add-in PC Cards, according to the company. They are available to manufacturers now in sample quantities. Broadcom did not provide pricing in the announcement.

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