Wi-Fi Alliance to Certify Pre-N Gear

If you use Wi-Fi wireless networking, you’ve probably seen the terms 802.11a, 802.11b, and 802.11g: they represent different wireless networking standards, with 802.11g being the technology most widely deployed in wireless gear today, and offering more bandwidth than previous iterations.

The next big standard—and next big bump in wireless bandwidth—should come in the form of 802.11n, but the industry has been unable to reach a consensus on how aspects of 802.11n technology should work. As a result, the industry has been stuck on 802.11g for a few years, although some vendors are jumping the gun and offering high-speed equipment based on what they hope will become the final 802.11n standard, and hoping that they’ll be able to update the equipment via firmware once a standard is adopted.

In a move designed to help manufacturers roll out new gear, the Wi-Fi Alliance—an industry group meant to formulate 802.11 protocols and technologies—announced today it will begin certifying interoperability of so-called draft 802.11n gear in the first half of 2007—before the expected certification of the 802.11n standard in early 2008. In fact, the next draft proposal for 802.11n—Draft 2.0—isn’t expected to be available before March 2007.

In the first phase, the Wi-Fi Alliance will confirm products comply with what they expect will be in Draft 2.0. The Wi-Fi Alliance will also conduct interoperability testing to confirm devices labels with their phase-one certification all play nicely with each other at the appropriate bandwidths.

The second phase of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s certification program will be tied to the ratified 802.11n standard, assuming it’s finalized by early 2008.

However, there are some gotchas. If no Draft 2.0 specification for 802.11n appears in March 2007, the Wi-Fi Alliance apparently plans to take it upon itself to determine what elements will go into its certification plan, and begin with certifying compatible products. Further, there’s no guarantee phase 1 products will be forward-compatible with phase 2 products which meet the final, ratified 802.11n standard—and they certainly won’t support some optional components of 802.11nn. Nonetheless, the Wi-Fi Alliance’s certification plan may be a practical method to cut through the Gordian Knot of trying to bring higher wireless bandwidth and improved capabilities to market in a more timely fashion, rather than waiting another year for a standard to be ratified. Time will tell.

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