Buyer Beware on 802.11n Gear

Buyers of the latest 801.11n-based wireless networking gear, you’ve been warned.

The high-speed wireless networking speculation may promise blistering data rates of 100 megabits per second and up, as well as trump earlier Wi-Fi flavors in speed and distance, but it’s not quite baked enough for the products in the market, research firms say.

At least, not until standards bodies hash out a final agreement on the specifications. And after a working group of the IEEE to reach a majority vote this week on the latest spec, the “n” might as well stand for “not-quite-ready.”

“The road ahead is full of pitfalls, and early adopters should heed the warning ‘buyer beware,'” said ABI Research in a just-released study.

“The 11n draft specification was the starting gun for 802.11 chipset vendors,” ABI Research analyst Alan Varghese wrote in his report. But “true interoperability between vendors is still wishful thinking. So, consumers and business users should be wary about their purchases, at least until final ratification of the standard, which is expected sometime in 2007.”

The absence of a final specification on 802.11n for vendors to deploy hasn’t stopped them from introducing products that incorporate early versions of the technology.

Last month for example, LinkSys unveiled a Wireless-N Broadband Router and Wireless-N Notebook Adapter. Netgear announced the RangeMax Next as the first in a series of devices that are based on the IEEE’s draft specification. D-Link also released its RangeBooster N 650 series of wireless routers and network adapters that incorporate designs based on early 802.11n draft specification.

Most of the vendors are careful to say the products are based on a “draft version” of the specification and “incorporate the latest features made possible,” such as DLink did with its product release. These announcements, however, do not talk so much about the compatibility of “pre-n” devices with existing 802.11 networks and systems that are based on future versions of the evolving specification.

Such omissions are “misleading” and claims of compliance are premature, warned Garner Research. “The 802.11n standard is on track to be ratified. However, given that the IEEE does not believe the ratification will take place until 2007, Gartner believes vendors that market draft compliance are misleading prospects,” the firm said in a note last week.

Gartner is advising its Fortune 1000 clients to hold off on any 802.11n buying decisions until a standard is ratified and certification in place.

Wi-Fi vendors disagree, saying they’re offering state-of-the-art choices. For example, Steven Joe, president and CEO of D-Link, said it is important that customers have the latest to choose from, whether they are first-time wireless home users or small-to-medium-sized business owners who require more advanced installations.

Products based on the 802.11n wireless WANprotocol are supposed to increase communications ranges, and offer better reliability and transmission speeds that may surpass traditional wired Ethernet connections.

The technology makes use of multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) antennae architectures, so these products may also be more adept at handling heavier data traffic and bandwidth-intensive applications.

Shipments of 802.11n products may even eclipse the number of 802.11g devices now in the market, said ABI Research. The firm expects worldwide shipments of 802.11 integrated circuits to hit the 150 million mark this year.

Adapted from

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