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802.11n Ratified: What It Means for Wi-Fi Products

At long last, the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) has ratified the 802.11n standard. In a press release quietly issued on Friday, September 11th, the IEEE announced that its Standards Board had ratified the IEEE 802.11n-2009 amendment, "defining mechanisms that provide significantly improved data rates and ranges for wireless local area networks (WLANs)."

The news came as no surprise to vendors and industry watchers, as the IEEE had been open about its September timetable for ratification.

The finalized standard, which includes a 560-page 802.11n amendment, makes good on its promise of backwards-compatibility with earlier drafts and also adds some new capabilities.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, which certifies 802.11 products for interoperability, affirmed in late July that its certification programs would not have to change as a result of the impending ratification.

The seven-year journey to ratification officially involved more than 400 individuals ranging from equipment and silicon suppliers, service providers, systems integrators, consultant organizations, and academic institutions from more than 20 countries.

Paul Nikolich, IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee Chairman said in Friday’s press release, "Everyone involved in the 802.11n process--and no one more than Bruce Kraemer [Chair of the IEEE Wireless LAN Working Group], whose strong leadership has been instrumental from the start--deserves congratulations because this is a key data communications milestone and a good example of the consensus building environment 802 provides for its participants. The amendment will enable a dramatic leap forward in WLAN scalability with only a modest associated rise in costs for the industry and end users."

Enterprising Vendors

Many segments of the market, such as schools and universities, and home and small business users, had already grown comfortable enough with 802.11n-draft 2.0 to deploy networks using it. But, for enterprises, there has been more reticence toward early adoption.

"The ratification is most significant for enterprises. A lot of universities have already adopted 802.11n, after receiving assurance that the final standard would be backwards compatible. This final ratification puts the issue to rest for lots of customers," Mike Tennefoss, Head of Strategic Marketing at Aruba Networks, one of the companies that sits on the 802.11n committee, told Wi-Fi Planet today. "In the broader enterprise, there was fear of last-minute changes [to the standard]. This ratification is really good for corporate customers. Ratification was the last barrier holding up the actual widespread adoption of 11n in the general enterprise market. We think it will open up the market significantly."

While the ratification is big news, it is also, in many ways a small detail. It’s a bit like learning that a person has finally been officially named CEO after running a company successfully and publicly for several years, but with a different job title.

"It doesn’t change anything for us," says Tennefoss. "We will of course certify under the finally ratified standard, so that we will eliminate that draft citation on the logo. It doesn’t change our development plans or our marketing strategy. It removes the impediments that were preventing customers that were really interested in high-performance, high-security systems from moving forward. We expect more activity in sales, but it’s not changed in technical ways."

Better, stronger, faster

Looking ahead, improvements to 11n should include both speed and energy efficiency.

"We do sit on the n committee and there is work under way on the next higher speed version of 11n. As we look forward into the coming years, we’ll see enhancements to enable it to go faster on the technical side. The target is comparable to gigabit Ethernet, ultimately," says Tennefoss. "On the other side, on the product design side, I think ratification is basically going to lead to more stratification of the market, where there are lower-priced all the way up to high-performance solutions. The standard has removed any concerns that there will be last-minute changes; it will be safer to move forward with lower-priced devices shipped in higher volume."

But what about your iPhone or BlackBerry? When will it get 802.11n?

“Right now, the benefit of using g is power consumption,” says Tennefoss. “There aren't yet ultra-low power 11n wireless handsets, phones, scanners, or barcode scanners on the market, but these devices are in the pipeline. We know the chipset vendors are working on it. The new iPod touch has an 11n chip in it, but the battery operating time hasn't been announced. I don’t know when it will happen, but it will happen. That will result in market transition from g to n—battery life.”

Trading up

With the advent of the new standard, a couple of vendors have launched "cash for clunkers-themed" promotions to encourage legacy users to upgrade their equipment.

San Francisco-based innovator, Meraki, announced its "Cash for Wireless LAN Clunkers" event. The special promotion included a $150 credit for each access point traded in for a Meraki network. To qualify for Cash for Wireless LAN Clunkers, customers must register with Meraki and make their purchase by September 30, 2009.

Power to the People

Also ratified is the IEEE 802.3at-2009 Power over Ethernet (PoE) Plus standard. The new PoE Plus standard defines the technology for powering a wide range of powered devices at up to 51W over existing CAT5e-and-above cables.

Quick Links

Key Terms To Understanding 802.11n   Related Articles on Webopedia:

Naomi Graychase is Managing Editor at eSecurityPlanet.com.

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