Dell could bring down your (or your neighbors) wireless network

Summary:Rumors are circulating that Dell could launch notebooks that have built-in support for the draft 802.11n WiFi standard during Q3 this year. This could see draft 802.11n getting a huge boost in popularity and both businesses and consumers buying and installing 11n compatible routers and other hardware in order to leverage the greater bandwidth and range offered by the draft standard.This is a bad thing. A very bad.

Rumors are circulating that Dell could launch notebooks that have built-in support There are a number of issues with a big PC vendor like Dell pushing a draft standard into the market at such as early stagefor the draft 802.11n WiFi standard during Q3 this year.  This could see draft 802.11n getting a huge boost in popularity and both businesses and consumers buying and installing 11n compatible routers and other hardware in order to leverage the greater bandwidth and range offered by the draft standard.

This is a bad thing.  A very bad. 

There are a number of issues with a big PC vendor like Dell pushing a draft standard into the market at such as early stage.  This single action may be all that many other  businesses and consumers need to tempt them down the draft 11n route too, not realizing that they could be digging themselves (and the rest of us) into a deep hole.

I've already written quite a bit about the draft 802.11n standard (look here, here, here or here if you're interested), and not much of it is positive.  But that's to be expected as 802.11n is a standard that's currently in draft form and far from being ready for public consumption.  Despite this, a number of hardware vendors have, in my opinion, been rather foolhardy and deciding to put out gear that makes use of this draft standard. 

Big mistake.  While the 802.11n standard promises a number of improvements over 802.11g, independent tests show pretty conclusively that current 802.11n equipment have a number of very serious issues that make them unsuitable for public consumption:

  • High prices
  • Poor driver support
  • Firmware issues
  • No guaranteed upgrade path to final 802.11n standard
  • Poor performance
  • Poor interoperability (both between draft 11n gear from different vendors and 802.11b/g equipment)
  • Draft 11n gear can jam existing WiFi networks

If you're interested in learning more about the state of current draft 802.11n equipment, I suggest that you read the two part article at Tom's Networking (Part 1 | Part 2).

Being able to inadvertently jam other WiFi networks is a very serious issue indeed.  Let's now imagine that a scenario where someone decides to go out and take the plunge and set up a WiFi network based on 802.11n gear.  They somehow wave a magic wand over the gear and get it set up so that it's working and delivering performance that's equal to or better than 802.11g.  There's now another issue looming over the network - the possibility that this 11n network is interfering with neighboring 11b/g networks.

A network is a sacred thing and reliability is paramount.  Adding gear that can cause headaches is a move that's to be avoided.  But adding gear that could interfere with somebody else's network is a serious sin.  Setting up one of these draft 11n "jammers" could have a detrimental effect on any other wireless networks that fall within its radius.

This is why I seriously hope that Dell don't bring out notebooks that have support for draft 11n.  Doing so could open the upgrade floodgates and could see draft 11n gear getting a major foothold in the marketplace, with serious implications for WiFi users everywhere (George Ou takes a deeper look at the implications of using draft 11n gear).

Given that these are just rumors at present, there may be no substance to them and Dell may not be planning to add draft 11n support to their notebooks.  But if they do, I'm going to be very interested in how they market draft 11n.  Making wild promises that the hardware won’t be able to deliver (especially if it has to deal with third-party gear) is going to upset customers.  Trying to support it is going to be really difficult, and dealing with future compatibility issues could be a long-term problem for Dell. 

I'm giving draft 11n gear a wide berth.

Topics: Dell

About

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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