Alliance wants orderly 802.11n process
Without a final standard in hand, the Wi-Fi Alliance is jumping into the 802.11a fray.
The Wi-Fi Alliance's decision to certify 802.11n pre-standard products isn't the first time that the umbrella group has moved ahead of the IEEE. The alliance did the same with 802.11i, launching a certification program for the security protocol before the August engineers' standardization body ratified the final standard in June 2004. Now it's going two for two.
That may sound like a string of precedents, but Wi-Fi Alliance Managing Director Frank Hanzlik was quick to quash any notion that the alliance was taking standardization into its own hands. The alliance may be pre-empting the IEEE, but it's doing so in order to maintain control over a market that is set to take off, standard or no standard, Hanzlik said. For the alliance to let the market be flooded with untested and unqualified products, claiming conformity to 802.11n — or worse, Wi-Fi — would be irresponsible, Hanzlik said.
“We have some real concerns that if the Wi-Fi Alliance doesn't step in, we wouldn't have any interoperability between these devices,” he said. “We see the overall benefits to letting 802.11n achieve its full potential and keep its good reputation. If we just sat on the sidelines with so many products out in the field, there would be a host of issues surrounding the technology that could damage its future reputation.”
Chipset makers Atheros, Broadcom and Intel and multiple input/multiple output pioneer AirGo Networks already have released silicon that either is based on proprietary technology — so-called Pre-n solutions — or conforms to the original draft proposal of the IEEE's Task Group n, which failed to get enough votes this summer (see timeline). The Wi-Fi Alliance isn't certifying either of those generations of products, though. It plans to use the next draft of the 802.11n standard, expected to emerge from the IEEE early next year, allowing the alliance to begin certification in the first half of 2007. The idea is to get as close to the final standard as possible without putting off the technology for another year, Hanzlik said.
By certifying to Draft 2.0, the alliance will not only ensure a product line closer to the final n standard, but it can enforce continuity in the products themselves, requiring they are not only interoperable with one another, but forward-compatible with the future standardized products and backward-compatible with 802.11a/b/g technologies. The alliance isn't promising that the pre-standard certification will allow a product to evolve into final-standard certification, however.
“We don't have a crystal ball good enough to offer that guarantee,” Hanzlik said.
The alliance is only going so far as to promise backward-compatibility between pre-standard and full-standard certified devices. But vendors seem confident that the two specifications can be more closely linked. Rick Rotondo, Motorola mesh networking marketing director, said as long as there is consistent and clear test plan going forward and consensus of all parties, there could be a fairly smooth transition between them.
“From what I've seen, there is enough flexibility in the plans that if there is a final n standard, it will be just a matter of a firmware download,” he said.
THE 802.11N SAGA
The IEEE's TGn meets to consider proposals for the future 802.11n standard, proposed by industry groups TGn Sync and WWiSE.
TGn votes to adopt TGn Sync's proposal, but it fails to get the 75% approval necessary to move it to a first draft for the whole of the IEEE's membership consideration.
TGn Sync clarifies many of the lingering issues with its proposal but still fails to get the necessary 75% approval.
TGn Sync, WWiSE, and MITMOT agree to work together to submit a joint proposal.
The joint proposal receives unanimous consent from the task group to move the proposal to a draft standard.
The draft standard is sent to IEEE membership for voting.
The draft fails to get the 75% approval from the general IEEE membership.
TGn votes to adopt a new draft for the 802.11n standard, effectively starting the process over again.
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