Netgear guilty of 'misleading' Wi-Fi claims

Netgear claimed that their products will reach speeds of 240 mbps when in fact it might reach 58 mbps under the best possible conditions for short bursts of time. This is like selling an expensive sports car with an advertised top speed of 240 mph when in fact it might reach 58 mph under optimum conditions.

I predicted months ago that the Wi-Fi industry would be sued sooner or later, so it was no surprise for me that Netgear recently admitted in court that they engaged in misleading advertising for their "pre-N" RangeMax products.  As a result of the lawsuit where Netgear officially admits no wrong doing, Netgear will modify their claims and offer a 15% discount to victimized consumers.  Now the question is, why only a minor slap on the wrist and why only Netgear?

Netgear claimed that their products will reach speeds of 240 mbps when in fact it might reach 58 mbps under the best possible conditions for short bursts of time.  This is like selling an expensive sports car with an advertised top speed of 240 mph when in fact it might reach 58 mph under optimum conditions.  What really bugs me is that Netgear will only need to say "Actual performance may vary according to the operating environment."  What they really need to be forced to say is "sorry we mislead you, but we inflated our performance numbers by a factor of four".

Other Wi-Fi vendors are also guilty of doing the same thing, but they may not be as blatant.  The Register cited this example:

"Belkin's publicity for its Wireless pre-N router [see picture, top left] quite flatly says "8x greater coverage than standards 802.11g" and '6x greater speeds than standard 802.11g.' If that isn't misleading, it's hard to see why not. A clearer expression would be 'under ideal circumstances' but in fact, even then, you'd get the impression that this is going to run faster than 100 megabit Ethernet."

While this is very dubious and sneaky, it is technically correct whereas the Netgear claims of 240 mbps are a flat out lie.  The Belkin product based on Airgo's True MIMO chipset really did break speed and range records at the time of its release so users were getting something for their money.  But what was sneaky was the way Belkin played with statistics.  Belkin specifically chose a range where other products where dropping off in throughput because they had reached the edge of their coverage.  This resulted in a technically correct claim that it was 6 times faster at that specific range.  The problem with this approach is that Belkin could have gone out a little further where standard 802.11g products got 1 mbps compared to Belkin's 20 mbps and claimed it was "20x" faster.  See how easy it is to manipulate the statistics?  The truth of the matter is, the Airgo-based products did get 2 to 3 times the range and were double the maximum speed of standard 802.11g products, so the "6x" claim is technically correct but dubious.  I specifically dinged Belkin for this in a blog last year.

If you thought that wasn't already confusing enough, it gets better.  David Berlind asked me about the new claims of "240 mbps" and "faster than Ethernet" from Linksys.  While I don't like the use of the number "240" here, the new Linksys product with Airgo's third generation of MIMO technology really does perform better than Fast Ethernet.  Airgo's third generation product gets a little more than 100 mbps which is four times faster than standard 802.11g, but the "240" rating is still misleading.  This inflated rating system really started when the 802.11g standard itself claimed 54 mbps when in fact 28 mbps was a more realistic peak throughput number under ideal conditions.  But take the Fast Ethernet standard for example which claims to operate at 100 mbps.  Fast Ethernet really does sustain peak rates of 97 mbps so the 100 mbps rating is very reasonable while the 802.11g 54 mbps rating is not.

The bottom line is that the Wi-Fi industry as a whole needs to stop misleading the consumers with numbers like "54" or "240".  Netgear's recent settlement is a step in the right direction, but the Wi-Fi industry as a whole really needs to clean up its act.  Belkin has the right idea in offering speed guarantees to their customers, and I think others should follow.  I don't mind vendors quoting peak throughput under ideal conditions, but those peak results should be reproducible in the lab.  No Wi-Fi vendor should ever be talking about 240 mbps unless they can actually back it up in the lab.  At present time, any claim of 200 mbps Wi-Fi speed is a flat out lie because no products can come even close to that number under any condition.

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