802.11n is the poster child for a standards process gone wrong. Seven years after it began and at least two years after 802.11 “draft” devices arrived, the IEEE has finally adopted a final standard for faster, stronger, more secure wireless.
Ideally, standards arrive before the products that implement them. However, the IEEE process moved so slowly that vendors adopted a draft standard and started manufacturing hardware. After a few little glitches, the hardware became compatible and many of us have–for years–been running multivendor 802.11n networks despite the lack of an approved standard.
I do not know what the hold-up was in the IEEE process. Initially, it did not seem helpful for vendors to be moving ahead on their own, using a standard still in the making.
However, it ended up working fine and I expect to soon download (automatically in the case of my Apple access point) new firmware that implements the final standard.
If standards bodies expect to be taken seriously, they need to do their work in reasonable periods. Releasing a “final” standard long after customer adoption has begun is not only anti-climatic but undercuts the value of the standards making process.
In this case, the process failed. The IEEE should either improve its process or get out of the way and left industry leaders just create de facto standards as they see fit. That is not preferable, but if the IEEE process is stuck, it will be what happens.
It seems to have worked out just fine for customers, which is what matters most. In the meantime, forgive me for wondering, “What good is the IEEE?”
David Coursey tweets as @techinciter.