Deciding When to Upgrade to 802.11n

As 802.11n slowly crawls toward becoming a wireless standard, IT managers have to decide whether it's the right time to switch. Unfortunately, the standard is stuck in draft status. Here's why.

Mon, April 21, 2008

CIO — You can never have enough money or a fast-enough wireless connection. We can't help with the money part, but for Wi-Fi users, IEEE 802.11n—with its up to 300Mbps (megabits per second) burst speeds—is the answer.

Well, it should be the answer. Deploying 802.11 is really not as simple as picking a networking vendor and pushing through a purchase order.

That's because 802.11n has been stuck in standards mud-wrestling for years. As is so often the case in standards, two major vendor sides squared off over which group's approach would become the one true—and thus money making—standard.

On one side was the Task Group 'n' synchronization, or TGn Sync. It counted Intel, Atheros Communications and Nortel among its members. On the other was World-Wide Spectrum Efficiency (WWiSE). Airgo Networks led this group. By early 2006, the pair had hashed out their problems in the Enhanced Wireless Consortium to reach a compromise that would become the official IEEE standard.

Well, that was the idea.

In 2008, we still don't have an official 802.11n standard. Jonathan Gruber, In-Stat's research analyst for Wi-Fi and WLAN, said, "Currently, 802.11n's status is draft 2.0, with the final standard expected in late 2008, early 2009."

That hasn't stopped almost all Wi-Fi vendors from releasing prestandard IEEE 802.11n products. This has raised some concerns, because the products may not be compatible with the final IEEE standard. If that's the case, companies that invested in draft 802.11n access points (APs) and network interface cards (NICs) may face the prospect of replacing their high-speed 802.11n infrastructure. No one really wants to explain that to their CEO and CFO, do they?

Unfortunately, 802.11n's standardization date keeps slipping. According to the IEEE 802.11 Official Timelines chart, the work-group approval for the new standard, which is the standard's critical hurdle, is now penciled in for March 2009.

It may not make it.

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