802.11n Finally on Fast Track?

By Eric Griffith

January 12, 2006

The upstart Enhanced Wireless Consortium says it has the backing to become the high-speed Wi-Fi standard of the future.

It was only in October of last year that the Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC) was formally announced by a number of Wi-Fi chip companies (though rumors had swirled since the summer). The EWC agenda was simple: create a high-speed 802.11n specification that would win approval sooner rather than later.

Maybe they were right. Or, at the very least, they've won a round, even if it didn't speed things up.

The 58-member group issued a media advisory last night stating that the Joint Proposal (JP) Team working to bring together the previously warring factions within the task group (World Wide Spectrum Efficiency (WWiSE) and TGn Sync, as well as the revived MITMOT proposal) voted 40 to 0 (with two ballots not cast) to adopt the EWC specification.

The 802.11 Task Group N's charter is to come up with a wireless standard that provides data rates well over 100 Megabits per second (Mbps). The EWC proposal would supposedly offer wireless speeds as high as 600 Mbps.

WWiSE and TGn Sync were in a stalemate throughout 2005 with neither able to get the 75 percent super-majority of votes needed to become the draft for the 802.11n standard. Because of the prolonged stalemate, under IEEE rules, even previous proposals like MITMOT became viable again. In July, the camps got approval to form the JP and work together. By then, the EWC was allegedly already working in the background — despite the fact that the EWC's main member companies also had membership in the JP. Ancient Rome has nothing on the inner workings of an IEEE standards body.

The JP will spend the next two days finalizing the EWC's 802.11n proposal. If all goes as planned, presentation will formally be made to the Task Group N at its meeting next week in Hawaii, which is part of the overall 802.11 Working Group's bi-monthly gathering.

When EWC came on the scene, helmed by four big Wi-Fi chip makers —Intel, Atheros, Broadcom and Marvell — some saw it as existing mainly to undercut the market momentum of Airgo Networks.

Multiple in, multiple out (MIMO) technology is used by many companies to describe their wireless technology, but no matter what 802.11n proposal you see, Airgo's MIMO, in some form or another, is going to be a big part of the technology of 802.11n. The company is not waiting for 802.11n to be finalized to sell chips. Its silicon already powers lots of big-selling products from companies like Belkin, Netgear and Linksys.

Airgo CEO Greg Raleigh thought in October 2005 that EWC was out to sabotage the standards process. He said at the time, "We are disappointed at the approach being taken to try and create an interoperable standard that goes around the open process."

At the time, Raleigh accused EWC of delaying the JP's work, but said that in the end, "The JP group will form the right compromise." Still, he pointed out that "then there will be more changes," as the IEEE's groups don't work fast. Even with this 802.11n proposal potentially moving forward next week, a final specification won't be done for months, if not years.



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