IEEE Unable to Agree on 802.11g Standards

By Bob Liu

May 18, 2001

Internet Engineers this week adjourned their meeting without reaching a consensus on specifications for use on chipsets for all next-generation 802.11g products.

Members of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) this week adjourned their meeting without reaching a consensus on specifications to be used on chipsets for all next-generation 802.11g products—which are capable of transmitting data at 20 Mbps.

Industry observers have been keenly watching the outcome of the Orlando, Fla., meeting for specifications that would essentially double the current data transmission rates, enabling true multimedia wire-free streaming over the unlicensed 2.4GHz spectrum space.

Split-brain
But the meeting of about 175 members turned into a two-way contest between Intersil, which submitted one proposal known as Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) modulation, and Texas Instruments (TI), which has developed its own Packet Binary Convolution Coding (PBCC) technology. TI's proposal was taken out of the running in a preliminary voting round on Wednesday after not garnering majority support by the IEEE's 802.11g Task Force.

"There's not going to be an 11g standard coming out of Orlando," TI's Wireless Networking Business General Manager Mike Hogan told InternetNews.com in a telephone interview. "In the end, no vote was taken which we thought was unfortunate because we wanted to get some work done...it's clear we're not out of the woods in picking an 11g standard."

In order for Intersil's OFDM specification—which is now the sole candidate to be considered by the IEEE—to proceed, over 75 percent of the Task Force needed to ratify the proposal. After which, it would have then gone to the IEEE's larger 802.11 Working Group for procedural voting before officially becoming an IEEE recommendation. But complicating matters on Thursday was a two-hour procedural debate among members of the .11g Task Force.

According to officials from Irvine, Calif.-based Intersil, the bipartisan rancor was sparked after .11g Task Force Chairman Matthew B. Shoemake, Ph.D., ruled that Intersil's OFDM would no longer be considered because the proposal couldn't muster the support of 75 percent of the group—the mandatory threshold. (Shoemake is a TI official of Alantro Communications, which the Dallas-based multinational acquired last summer for $300 million to support its PBCC development efforts.)

If OFDM was eliminated for consideration by the IEEE, the Task Force would have been forced to essentially go back to the drawing board, requesting new proposals be resubmitted. But citing statutes from the IEEE Proposal Selection Process, Jim Zyren, Director of Marketing at Intersil's PRISM Wireless Products business, appealed the chairman's ruling.

Zyren's appeal was subsequently upheld; however, after the two-hour debate, no time was left for voting.

"I think the consensus of the group is they'd like to move forward," Zyren told InternetNews.com in an interview.

Taskmaster
The IEEE certainly has other items on its agenda, working on other specifications such as 802.11e—for voice transmission and security and .11a—which promises data rates of 54 Mbps. Because of the current limitations of 802.11b technology, promising only theoretical transmission speeds of 11 Mbps, company officials from California to Canada are anxiously anticipating the arrival of high-speed capabilities.

"What .11g offers is how to get to higher data rates without large incremental costs," explained Navin Sabharwal, vice president of residential and networking technologies at Allied Business Intelligence (ABI), an Oyster Bay, NY-based think tank.

Intersil's OFDM proposal now will go before the IEEE's .11g Task Force for ratification at its Portland, Ore., meeting in July. Members will vote round-robin style until the 75-percent threshold can be met. If, for example, only 60 percent ratify, the remaining 40 percent would be asked to modify the proposal, etc., until 75 percent is obtained.

"I'm very optimistic that we're going to cross the 75-percent threshold at the July meeting," Zyren said.

This round-robin procedure of voting-and-modifying was the case in 1999 during the adoption of 802.11b. Then, Intersil ultimately convinced supporters of a proposal from Lucent Technologies to back a hybrid specification for transmitting data at 11Mbps. But Zryen explained the present case involving Intersil and TI is dramatically different.

"With 802.11b, we had 2 proposals that had common ground. OFDM is a multiple-carrier proposal. PBCC is a single-carrier proposal. It's is very difficult to find common ground because the two proposals are so different. No mutually acceptable compromise position has been identified."

To be sure, TI officials emphasized that IEEE's inaction won't hamper its development in WLANs.

"If anyone was to think that the vote on Wednesday would dramatically impact our plan for wireless LAN, that's just not true," TI's Hogan said.



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