Broadcom Says No 11n in 2004

By Ed Sutherland

January 07, 2004

Chipmakers might be dodging the 'draft' of future 802.11 specs after claims surfaced of potentially early 802.11n hardware, but that's not stopping increased throughput technology from going into products today.

Remember the dust-up during 2003 over companies releasing products based on WLAN standards yet to be approved? Little wonder Wi-Fi chipmaker Broadcom quickly denied a report it was working on chips based on a draft version of the 100Mbps 802.11n.

"We don't anticipate seeing any 802.11n products on the market from anyone in 2004," Broadcom spokesperson Henry Rael told Wi-Fi Planet.

GlobespanVirata , which owns the former Intersil WLAN line of chips called PRISM, says anyone proposing even draft 802.11n-based products now is making things up -- as there are no drafts.

"A draft from the [802.11] Working Group takes months, and then proposals have to come in," says Jim Zyren, director of strategic marketing at GlobespanVirata. "Not until we get 75 percent consensus -- three-quarters of the members [of the 11n Task Group] agreeing -- do we have the first draft." Even then, there's a lot of technical refinement before the draft is remotely ready for initial use.

Stuart Kerry, chairman of the IEEE 802.11 Working Group, believes it will be 2005 or 2006 before the Wi-Fi standard is approved.

The proposed 802.11n standard moves the speed limit of Wi-Fi equipment from 802.11g's 54Mbps to more than 100Mbps. The various proposals that will go before the 11n Task Group can also be thought of as a truth-in-advertising move for the Wi-Fi industry. While wireless gadgets advertised 11Mbps or 54Mbps speeds, consumers never experienced anything close to the marketing hype. For the first time the throughput, or how fast information is actually transferred, will match the data rates -- the figures most often quoted by companies to indicate a device's ideal speed. The increased speed is accomplished by going through the media access control (MAC) layer rather than the physical layer.

Broadcom, who is battling it out with Intel , Atheros, and others for dominance in the lucrative market to unwire enterprise and home networks, gained its current standing in the industry by selling 802.11g chips based on a draft of the eventual standard.

The idea it might be "deja vu all over again" is a touchy subject with Broadcom after its feud with Atheros and others producing such draft-standard 802.11g products in early 2003. At the time, Broadcom was on the receiving end. Recently, it dished it out to Atheros over how Atheros Super G pumps up 802.11g speeds using 'non-standard' methods, in particular using channel bonding.

While standards like those from the IEEE ensure devices from different vendors will operate together without interference (what marketers term 'interoperability'), they also hamper companies in their time to market with new products.

"When there are standards, companies need to go outside of them in order to differentiate their products," says Julie Ask, a Jupiter Research senior analyst. Ask says the slow approval process of Wi-Fi standards encourages companies to seek out ways to be different.

However, Ask still supports standardized wireless products, pointing to the lack of interoperability as a reason that could be slowing consumer adoption of wireless networking. Although some tests confirmed (with caveats) Broadcom's claims surrounding Atheros and others using non-standard methods to 'goose' the speed of 802.11g, very little has changed on the Wi-Fi landscape. Atheros continues to offer its 802.11g products with 'turbo' mode melding two communication channels to produce 108Mbps speeds and Atheros customers seem satisfied.

"I think it's probably the right thing for Atheros with their pending IPO, but the wrong thing for the industry in the longer term," says Ask.

Atheros hopes its initial public offering, filed in November of last year, will raise $100 million.

Ask believes companies have time before interference becomes a problem effecting profits.

"Right now, this stuff works because there are not many devices competing for bandwidth."

However, as Wi-Fi devices make their way into every corner of corporate and consumer life, "something will have to give because this stuff will be interfering with other networks -- but that problem is probably still five years away -- long after Atheros' IPO and long after other companies using the chips have cashed out their stock," says Ask.

Eric Griffith contributed to this report.



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