Here's a really interesting development. The Wi-Fi Alliance, an organization that tests and certifies the interoperability of 802.11 wireless local-area network (WLAN) products, announced its plans to certify the interoperability of the so-called draft-n products that are being sold prior to the full and final ratification of the 802.11n standard. This new standard incorporates multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) and expects to deliver more than 100 Mbits/s over the typical 100-m range. Usually, the Alliance waits for the final approved standard before beginning the certification process.
Because of an ongoing conflict within the 802.11n task group, final approval of the standard isn't expected until the first quarter of 2008. That's a long time for companies to wait for profits from design efforts that have been going on for years. The Alliance is launching this two-phase certification program, which will begin testing draft-n products that include baseline features from the 802.11 standard in the first half of 2007. The second phase of the program will bring the testing and certification of the final ratified standard when it occurs in 2008.
Wi-Fi products containing key features of the 11n standard are already on the market. It is estimated that tens of millions more of these products will sell during 2007.
"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," says Frank Hanzlik, Wi-Fi Alliance managing director. "We believe the maturity of the baseline features in the pre-standard certification diminishes the risk that products won't comply with the IEEE 802.11n when it is ratified."
"With this interim interoperability program, we achieve a technology advancement to fill the gap until the 802.11n standard and associated Wi-Fi certification is finally approved," says Ken Dulaney, president of Gartner Research. "With Wi-Fi Alliance backing, this interim certification can achieve industry interoperability... something the alternative approaches to date were unable to guarantee."
David Borison of Airgo, one of the companies selling pre-n chips and products, thinks the Alliance's action is a good thing. It forces the Wi-Fi Alliance to pin down just what the common base features should be, thereby actually creating a quasi or interim standard or what some are calling Draft 2.0. Complying with this interim version will help weed out the weaker and buggy designs that are too far off the path. And, it will help settle the market some in preparation for the real standard in 2008.
The certification for the pre-standard products will clearly indicate to consumers that what they're purchasing isn't based on a ratified IEEE standard. Contact the Alliance for more details.