Electronic Design

Will Power Issues Befuddle Next-Gen Wi-Fi?

802.11n is ratified by IEEE

At long last, the next generation of technology that will drive Wi-Fi for the coming decade was given the go-ahead by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). It’s taken some time to reach this point. Now it’s up to the electronics industry to figure out how to best exploit the operational advantages listed on the 802.11n menu.

I say taken some time because the standard was thought out nearly seven years ago. For several years since then, many manufacturers of computers and related equipment like routers have been selling equipment using the 802.11n standard, but had to designate it as 802.11n DRAFT.

In fairness to the IEEE, though, ratifying this standard was no small task. It had to ensure backward compatibility as well as guarantee that future communications technology would also be compatible. So, then, what are some of the key advantages of this newly unleashed Wi-Fi technology?

First of all, it will support speeds approaching 300Mb/s, which is a massive improvement on the 50Mb/s afforded by previous standards. It will also transmit information over a distance of up to nearly 100 metres (320 feet). Speed-wise, pundits are of the viewpoint that 802.11n is able to transmit at up to 600Mb/s. As of this writing, though, such a level of speed has never been achieved.

A key aspect of the new standard is that it encompasses multipleinput/ multiple-output (MIMO) technology. As a result, electronics designers can look at the application of multiple antennae, which provides superior data resolution than a single antenna.

However, the benefits of MIMO technology don’t end there. A really important operational advantage it brings to the comms party is spatial division multiplexing (SDM). SDM sorts out multiple data streams that are sent simultaneously within a single bandwidth channel. With such functionality, data pumps through much faster and with higher accuracy.

Another advance delivered by the 802.11n standard is the provision of a 40MHz channel, which is effectively twice the bandwidth provided by previous incarnations of the 802.11 standard. This becomes rather important because of the working relationship it will have with MIMO architectures, and will ultimately result in increased datatransfer rates.

Apparently, everything is looking very positive for this new standard. Well, almost everything. One glitch that must be addressed is the power consumption required by 802.11n. The culprit in this case is MIMO, which although technically advantageous, does create a power drain that will serve up a new set of challenges to designers of handsets.

But where would electronics designers be if they didn’t have the design challenges presented by emerging technologies?

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