IEEE's 802.11g WLAN standard seems doomed

The IEEE now has two wireless 54mbps LAN standards, but the most recent arrival, 802.11g, is unlikely to thrive

A faster variation on the 802.11b wireless LAN standard seems certain to arrive in the market too late to have any real use. The 802.11g specification may cause little more than confusion as it will be beaten to the market by the superior 802.11a standard, according to industry spokespeople.

While 54mbps WLAN products based on the 802.11a standard are arriving in the US, the IEEE standards body has approved 802.11g, another specification which allows the same speed. Technically, the difference between the two is that 802.11a operates in the 5GHz waveband, while 802.11g operates in the 2.4GHz waveband -- where current WLAN products based on the 802.11b standard live.

"By the time 802.11g reaches the market, 802.11a will be the incumbent technology," said David Bradshaw, product manager for WLANs, Intel EMEA. The final 802.11g standard will probably not be completed until the beginning of 2003. Although 54mbps products in the 2.4GHz band will be available before then, 802.11a will have a strong lead, said Bradshaw.

802.11g will have more backwards compatibility with the existing 802.11b specification, since the cards will be interchangeable in an 802.11g base station, and they operate in the same waveband. However, Intel, Agere and other WLAN providers are shipping dual-card base stations which can hold both 802.11a and 802.11b cards, giving users enough compatibility between fast and slow WLANs.

Another factor is that 802.11g would increase the traffic in the 2.4GHz band, something that radio agencies wish to avoid, so it is possible that 802.11g may face regulatory difficulties in Europe. "The UK Radiocommunications Agency is concerned at the level of 2.4GHz traffic," said Bradshaw. "802.11g would increase it."

Although Intel clearly gains if 802.11g beats 802.11a, it is apparently innocent of standards-body manipulation in this instance. Accounts suggest that, although Intel has a member on the 802.11g committee, delays to 802.11g are the result of in-fighting between two of its rivals. The 802.11g standard was originally intended to operate at 22mbps, and was being led by silicon provider Intersil. Efforts by rival Texas Instruments to introduce the faster speed caused lengthy arguments and allowed 802.11a to take the lead.

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