Too Soon, Too Little for 802.11n?
June 15, 2006
Pre-802.11n wireless devices are hitting the market fast. Maybe too fast.
Being first in line is not always a good thing, especially when it comes to technology that is not quite ready for prime time.
It's a lesson manufacturers of devices based on early versions of the 802.11n specification are learning the hard way as negative reports trickle in on these pumped-up Wi-Fi systems.
Concerns include doubts about the technology's range and throughput, as well as its ability to play well with current Wi-Fi systems, according to a new report from ABI Research.
Reviews are leaning toward a "lukewarm" or "negative" response, said the study, which may be a huge ouch for wireless manufactures like Netgear, LinkSys and others that have rushed pre-802.11n products into the market.
"While they connect at high speeds at close range, these devices' performance tends to fall off rapidly with increasing distance," said ABI Research senior analyst Sam Lucero in a statement. "And interoperability is neither as robust nor as seamless as it should be."
ABI's conclusions are based on the results of independent tests of the early devices, which employ multiple-input, multiple output otherwise known as MIMO technology. The research house also talked to most of the 802.11n chipset makers, including Broadcom, Atheros and Intel.
A number of other researchers are cautioning companies to look very carefully before they leap at a technology that may not be fully defined until early next year, when the IEEE is expected to ratify the final standards specification.
Companies "should wait until the standard is ratified and Wi-Fi certification is implemented," said the Gartner Group in a report issued last month.
Gartner notes vendors of early systems may be misleading current buyers by implying that today's products will be in tune with tomorrow's final technology.
The IEEE Task Group N Working Group is charged with tweaking the proposed 802.11n standard and ratifying the final cut. Other groups contributing to the effort include the Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC), formed in 2005 and made up of close to 30 Wi-FI vendors with an interest in 802.11n products and technologies.
Interoperability is obviously a key topic of discussion among most groups since there are serious doubts those early 802.11n systems will work with products that arrive sometime next year.
"The whole idea behind the EWC was that they were going to provide a clear path to interoperability," noted ABI's Lucero. "But, vendors rushed into the market, and at least with this initial run of chipsets, good interoperability does not seem to have been achieved."
Still, despite these claims, there are users who are chomping at the bit to take the new technology out for a test run.
"802.11n is a great improvement because it gives you ability to do more with current Wi-Fi technology," said Ken LeCompte, a systems programmer manger of wireless activities at Rutgers University.