Wi-Fi Alliance Breaks Ranks On 802.11n Testing

The decision to speed up the testing process for 802.11n specification equipment was made because of expected delays in the IEEE's ratification process.

LONDON — Broadcom has welcomed the decision taken by the Wi-Fi Alliance to speed up the testing process for 802.11n specification equipment despite the fact that the high data-rate wireless technology is still undergoing standardization within the IEEE.

The timetable, a break from usual practice, was announced by the Alliance Tuesday (Aug 29) because of the expected delays in the IEEE's ratification process.

Certification is expected to start in March 2007 once the draft standard has been approved, and the process will be updated once the full standard has been ratified within the IEEE's delayed procedure.

"This two-phase approach balances our longstanding commitment to standards-based technology with the current market need for product interoperability certification," said Wi-Fi Alliance Managing Director Frank Hanzlik. "While we are committed to supporting a full 802.11n standard when it is available, pre-standard products are reaching a level of maturity and there is enough market uptake that a certification program makes sense for the industry."

Hanzlik said it was crucial that the group keeps up the momentum towards industry acceptance of the fast data rate wireless LAN.

The standard was supposed to be finalized by early next year, but the Alliance has reluctantly accepted that will not happen until probably 2008.

In the meantime, chip companies such as Broadcom and Atheros have been shipping chip sets since the draft was approved in January, and OEMs have developed a wide range of pre-standard 802.11n gear.

"The ratified IEEE 802.11n is likely to include a larger set of features and will be a fully-reviewed standard," Hanzlik added. "We believe the maturity of the baseline features in the pre-standard certification diminishes the risk that products won't comply with IEEE 802.11n when it is ratified."

A 2.0 version of the 802.11n draft standard is now being prepared after the first vote in May by members of the IEEE 802.11 working group on Draft 1.0 failed to reach the 75 percent majority required for acceptance.

Just days earlier, several vendors targeting the next-generation wireless-LAN standard went on the defensive after the first tests of draft IEEE 802.11n clients and routers indicated poorer-than-expected performance, a lack of interoperability and, in one case, inadequate security. The chip and equipment companies questioned the testing methods, saying they suspected preproduction systems and software versions had been used, and quoted higher performance numbers based on their own tests.

In the past, the Alliance has generally only done interoperability testing on fully-ratified 802.11 standards. One major exception was on the subset of the 802.11i security standard under the moniker of Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). Once 802.11i was finished, it revised it to WPA2. Hanzlik says the Alliance's 11n plans will follow that pattern.

Just as earlier this year when it started shipping chipsets days after the draft standard was approved, Broadcom was quick off the mark responding to the move.

"Broadcom is pleased that the Wi-Fi Alliance has revised its certification plans to meet the needs of consumers adopting draft-N products. The move reflects the significance of draft-N products in today's Wi-Fi marketplace and validates the maturity of the draft specification on which these products are built," the chip maker said in a statement.

"By certifying the interoperability between draft-N products and those based on the final standard, the WFA is providing consumers with confidence to purchase next-generation Wi-Fi devices today. While fully supporting the development of the Wi-Fi Alliance's draft-N testing program, Broadcom will continue working with other Wi-Fi vendors to ensure interoperability in the interim," the statement added.

Airgo Networks, the company that pioneered the MIMO technology that is the basis of the merging 802.11n standard, also welcomed the decision to certify pre-standard products.

According to Dave Borison, the director of product marketing at Airgo, the decision will "eliminate the chaos."

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