Finalized Standard or Not, 802.11n Continues to Grow

Carl Weinschenk

The gradual deployment of 802.11n continues. The process, which was no doubt delayed by the inability of the industry to finish off the standard, seems to be moving along. IT World offers a good summation of where things stand. The piece says 802.11n offers 100 megabits per second (Mbps). The next version, 802.11n 450, which the piece says is based on Marvell chip sets, may top 200 Mbps. Though the writer doesn't say so overtly, it clearly sounds as if 802.11n (and especially the 450 version) can be considered a replacement for many wired Ethernet implementations.

 

Unlike the familiar Ethernet protocol with which it sometimes is compared, 802.11n is tricky to implement. Indeed, this press release says that 802.11n is called "The Mother of All Networking Standards," and that it is accompanied by "a staggering array of amendments and supplements." That is why Certified Wireless Network Professional (CWNP) has created a six-hour training video that covers six 802.11n-related topics. They include a general overview of its challenges, 802.11n's PHY/MAC enhancements, the antenna systems it uses, mechanisms for letting 802.11n systems coexist with other protocols, integration and deployment considerations, and site surveys and analysis.

 

The hottest product in the smartphone sector, of course, is the iPhone. Wi-Fi Net News tackles the interesting question of the relationship between the Apple device and 802.11n. The answer is rather confusing, and the second half of the piece is a bit difficult for a non-expert to understand. The sense is, however, that a streamlined version of 802.11n could be quite useful to iPhone users.

 

The speed and coverage advances of 802.11n are due to the use of dual antennas, multiple radios and the simultaneous processing of more than one signal. Those signals are combined to provide the greater reach and speed of the protocol. The problem is that squeezing all of this into an iPhone would kill its already challenged battery life. The answer, the article says, is "single stream 802.11n." The writer admits that taking away the very elements that provide the standard's advantages is counter-intuitive. However, there are other technical advances baked into 802.11n, and what's left can boost real-world throughput from the mid 20 Mbps to between 30 Mbps and 50 Mbps.


ABI Research expects 802.11n to gradually gain the upper hand. Earlier this month, the researchers released a report that said that 802.11n access points (APs) will almost catch up with the older standard, 802.11g, by the end of 2009. Next year, the story says, 802.11n AP revenue will be double that of 802.11g. The oldest of the standards-the first popular Wi-Fi platform, 802.11 a/b-still has a market share of about 84 percent, ABI says. Higher education and health care, the report says, are leading the switchover to draft 2 of the 802.11n standard. DigiTimes, according to Mobile TechReview, reports of 802.11n chip shortages that are expected to last through May. This is evidence that the movement toward the standard is robust.


 

The continued difficulty of finalizing a standard always has been a thorn in the side of 802.11n. Products are appearing -- here, for instance, is a review of APs from Buffalo Technology, D-Link, Belkin, SMC and Netgear -- and deployments are being made. The lack of a completed standard seems to matter less and less, and the technology clearly has gained a solid foothold.



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