A milestone of sorts in the long development of the 802.11n standard is upon us. The next-generation, multimedia-friendly wireless standard was to have been done by now. That didn't happen -- and won't until next year or even 2009.
In the interim, vendors have released proprietary 802.11n products. The Dell'Oro Group says that the gear has generated more than $150 million in revenues since shipments began during the second quarter of last year.
That's good -- but comes with a big downside. Deep penetration of proprietary gear can create a marketplace that is fractured, chaotic and, in the final analysis, relegates standards-based equipment from being a panacea to just another option.
The telecommunications and IT industries -- and, especially, the vendors that serve them -- don't want to see this happen. To forestall such a fate, the Wi-Fi Alliance has announced that next month it will begin certifying pre-standard versions of 802.11n products. The organization has 11 testing facilities in seven countries around the world.
The idea of certifying to 802.11n Draft 2.0 is to ensure that products released now interoperate with each other, with existing 802.11a, b and g products and, when the Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE) work is complete, with the final 802.11n standard.
It's hard to argue with the logic of all this, especially when the alternative is a confused marketplace and many disappointed buyers, especially among consumers and the small businesses that don't have the time, interest or manpower to research these issues.
The question is how organizations should approach this bifurcated future. This Gartner bulletin points out that companies buying gear now may not realize some of the features -- especially those related to the merging, or bonding, of channels -- that will be supported by the full version of the standard.
The firm suggests that organizations bypass the interim gear if possible. We don't agree. Why should companies change their normal buying just because standards-based gear will be more useful? Products always progress, and it's to be expected that wireless products bought in June of 2007 won't be as advanced as those bought next year. Whether the improvement is purely a function of vendor R&D or is driven by the need to satisfy a looming standards deadline matters little.
Indeed, the creation of the Draft N certification process should, if anything, make it more likely that a company will buy gear because it eliminates the possibility that gear bought now will be non-compliant in a year. The buying decision, thus, is simplified and will revolve solely around whether the extra reach and bandwidth is necessary.