Cisco Bolsters Enterprise 802.11n, but Prudence Still Advised

Carl Weinschenk

There is little doubt that a lot of consumers -- and more than a few businesses -- will buy draft 802.11n equipment. The question is how well the "N" initiative in general and enterprise efforts in particular will fare during the long gap before the promulgation of the official standard, which won't happen for more than a year.


A couple of significant, though conflicting, tea leaves dropped last week. Perhaps the most significant is the news -- here reported in eWeek -- that Cisco is putting enterprise gear behind the draft initiative. Unlike most pre-standard scenarios, there is a testing process in place for the draft version of the spec. Cisco announced that its Aironet 1250 has "participated in" the Wi-Fi Alliance's Draft 2.0. The decision to introduce enterprise-grade draft 802.11n equipment was made because chip makers and laptop vendors are embedding the technology into wireless devices.


One vendor that Cisco may not have consulted is Broadcom. Mobilised discussses a report at DigiTimes that says Broadcom is not replacing 802.11g as the predominant WLAN technology because G is far less expensive than draft N chips. Broadcom had expected 802.11n to represent 25 percent of the worldwide market by the end of this year, but has dropped the estimate by 5 percent. The story says that the slow standards process is not responsible for Broadcom's change of heart.


Despite the conflicting moves, which are summed up nicely in Ars Technica, it seems that 802.11n is in good shape. Whether or not it is an immediate hit in enterprise applications is important. But it perhaps is not crucial to its survival.


At any rate, 802.11n seems to be doing OK in the business sector as well. The writer of this Processor story quotes a technical marketing engineer from D-Link to the effect that there is momentum for 802.11n in the small- and medium-size business (SMB) sector. The story does a good job of describing the technology's advantages and the challenges it faces. Chief among the latter is the possibility that the increase in capacity and range will cause problems for the existing wired and wireless infrastructure.


Though Apple is not considered a major business player, plenty of people use its equipment at work and its influence is beyond question. One bit of news in this EDN story is that the company's Airport Extreme N now is 802.11n Draft-2.0 certified.


The attitude of the big players should play a part in a company's decision to deploy or bypass Draft N. Planners must predict what the landscape will look like when the standard is promulgated. Will companies that sit it out come to market with new products that are more advanced than vendors starting now and building in incremental fashion? Or, conversely, will the experience and partnerships generated during the betwixt-and-between Draft N era prove a great advantage when the final gavel is struck by the IEEE?


While Cisco's move makes early adoption a bit more sensible, we still think the most prudent advice is to wait. The two exceptions to that advise is if the gear is to be used in such as way that interoperability isn't an issue or if the need is so great now that taking a chance is justified.

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