802.11n Wireless Gear Falls Short In Testing

Performance of the home networking gear was very weak and interoperability nonexistent, according to a new round of independent testing of Netgear and Buffalo Technology wares.

Patrick Mannion, Contributor

April 24, 2006

3 Min Read

MANHASSET, N.Y. — The first round of IEEE Draft N-compliant wireless networking equipment from Netgear and Buffalo Technology proved disappointing in terms of performance and interoperability, according to independent tests performed by Craig Mathias, principal at Farpoint Group (Ashland, Mass.).

The tests over this past weekend were performed in a typical home environment, and were designed to analyze the capabilities of Buffalo's AirStation Nfiniti router and client, which use Broadcom's Intensi-fi chip set, as well as both versions of Netgear's RangeMax Next client and routers. One is based on Broadcom's Intensi-fi chip set and the other on Marvell's TopDog chip set.

The Draft N equipment was then compared to established products from Linksys: the SRX400 based on Airgo's third-generation multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) chip set; and the Wireless G line, based on Broadcom's chips.

The performance comparisons were much anticipated in the competitive wireless LAN market, especially following the behind-the-scenes tactics used by members of the IEEE 802.11n task group to gain an advantage for their respective technologies. With the introduction of a draft standard in January, the stage was set for the introduction of prestandard, or Draft N, equipment, despite calls from the IEEE to avoid such labels.

"Draft N is misleading . . . we couldn’t even get the equipment to talk to each other. That [lack of interoperability] was surprising," said Mathias, who said he unsuccessfully tried to get Netgear equipment to communicate with Buffalo's gear. "We couldn’t even get the two Netgear systems to talk," he added.

Mathias also warned that the final 802.11n standard will be considerably different from the first draft that vendors are working from. Hence, the transition may be more than a simple software or firmware upgrade.

"The companies are looking for a short-term market advantage—but consumers are looking for performance, not a specification," he said. It was in performance that the devices fell short.

"The more established products just blew them away," said Mathias. "Even the G stuff [Linksys Wireless G] performed better. It's like we're going backward."

Mathias said he particularly liked the SRX400, which he said had long range, and could connect at "test point four" (85 feet), a distance at which other MIMO equipment lost connections. That the G equipment also connected at that distance was a fact that Mathias found disappointing. He said it reflected badly on the MIMO-based Draft N implementations. "It's not a good sign at all," he said in his report.

Along with interoperability and range-versus-throughput issues, Mathias found that security implementations were inadequate. "We suspect these products were rushed to market to capitalize on 802.11n draft hysteria, and grant that they could [be improved] via firmware and software upgrades over the next few weeks or months." However, Mathias said the real advances will take place in MIMO radio design over the next year, thereby obviating the necessity for upgrades.

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