802.11g on Track for Ratification

By Vikki Lipset

May 22, 2003

The wireless networking specification, which offers faster data rates than its 802.11b cousin, is expected to be approved as an official standard next month.

The group behind the development of the 802.11 standard for wireless networking has agreed on a final draft for the 802.11g specification, setting the stage for official standards approval in June.

At a meeting of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) last week in Dallas, the 802.11g Task Group unanimously approved version 8.2 of the draft standard. The IEEE 802.11 Working Group also approved the draft by a vote of 102-0-2, and, barring any procedural snags, the draft is expected to be ratified by the IEEE Standards Board on June 12.

The Task Group did not make any changes to the draft at last week's meeting, according to Matthew Shoemake, the chair of the IEEE 802.11g Task Group. He said the group reviewed comments received after updating the draft from version 7.1 to 8.2 at an April meeting in Austin, Texas, and " decided that they weren't substantive and didn't warrant a change to the draft."

The changes made in April related to interoperability issues, he said -- i.e., making sure 802.11b and g networks worked together properly. "Those were relatively simple changes, and I wouldn't expect that those would affect anyone's hardware; it's more of a software-type upgrade to implement those changes."

The Standards Board won't be looking at the technical content of the document, Shoemake said. "It's kind of like a final procedural checkoff," he said. "They're just making sure we followed all the rules properly and balloted everything properly. Assuming all of those boats go well on June 12, we'll have final ratification of 802.11g."

At that point, Shoemake said, the draft will be sent to the IEEE editorial staff, which will review it and then publish it on the group's Web site. "By July 12, people should be able to go online and get their hands on [the standard]."

The ratification of the standard should help alleviate some of the interoperability concerns surrounding 802.11g and spur broader adoption of the technology and of wireless local area networks (WLAN) as a whole, said Ken Furer, an analyst with the research firm IDC.

While pre-standard g products from companies such as Apple, D-Link and Buffalo Technology have been popular, some vendors, including Hewlett-Packard and Texas Instruments (TI), have been waiting for a final standard.

Marisa Speziale, a spokesperson for TI, said the company decided early on not to ship pre-standard silicon because of the potential for interoperability and performance problems. "We knew that there were risks associated with putting out pre-standard products for us and our customers," she said.

Now that the ratification of the approval seems imminent, TI is ramping up for volume production to start in June, she said.

"Even though products have started rolling onto the market in the first half of this year, I think that [interoperability] questions still existed in some people's minds," said Shoemake. "Hopefully now ... some of those questions can go away, and this upgrade to 802.11 can take hold in the market."

The 802.11g specification extends the data rate of the 802.11b standard from 11Mbps to 54Mbps, and is intended to be backwards compatible with earlier 802.11b products. Earlier this year, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced that it plans to start interoperability testing as soon as the 802.11g standard is finalized.

According to IDC, 802.11g products accounted for about 20 percent of WLAN shipments in the first quarter of 2003. Furer said that shipments should pick up after the standard is finalized, and he expects pricing for 802.11g chips to fall from $19 to $12 by the end of the year.

Eventually, 802.11b will be phased out, Furer said. "[It] will remain strong for the next year or so, but ultimately, the pricing will become competitive enough that it's replaced by g, or ultimately dual-band."

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