Avoid draft 802.11n standard, says analyst

Consumers are advised not to adopt products certified on the 802.11n Draft 2.0 wireless spec, and to wait until the ratified version of the standard is released.

Consumers should hold off and wait until the 802.11n standard is finalized rather than purchase products that currently support the draft version of the wireless protocol, advised analyst company Ovum.

The Wi-Fi Alliance last week said it will certify products based on pre-standard version of the next generation high-speed wireless networking technology. The industry body, which previously certified products on 802.11 standards including 802.11a and 802.11g, will being certifying 802.11n Draft 2.0 specification from June.

Mark Main, senior analyst at Ovum, said in a statement: "The 'N' revision to the IEEE's (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) 802.11 wireless LAN standard has been a long time coming."

"In fact, it is taking so long that vendors are well ahead of the game and are bringing out all manner of products in an attempt to grab market share," Main said. During this long wait, he added, two drafts were made to the 802.11n specification.

This, he said, has created several potential problems for users. "Certification of draft products means just that," he said, stressing that what that means is the Wi-Fi Alliance will "certify that your purchase will interoperate with whatever [it] wrote down as the draft 2.0 specification in 2007--and nothing more".

Main said that even though an upgrade path to the final "N" revision may be available when it is due out in 2009, it is likely that the user would have to "tinker around with firmware updates in future…when true 802.11n-certified products arrive".

"That is absolutely not the sort of task that the mass-market user can reasonably be expected to undertake," he said. "It's a bit like buying a car only to have to re-program the engine management system yourself to get the fuel economy promised in the glossy brochure."

Meanwhile, a "far bigger problem" belies the delayed schedule of the standard, which has been batted around for over two years, said Main.

To remain backward compatible with equipment based on the current and widely-used 802.11g standard, new products based on the 802.11n draft standard would have to "detect other stations and back off from using their single channels", he explained. But, the 802.11n specification has been touted to provide greater coverage and much higher speeds through the use of MIMO (multiple in, multiple out) antenna technology and channel bonding, he said.

"The legacy of [the] 'G' [standard] may sterilize the effectiveness of 'N' in some cases", Main said. However, by pushing the market to quickly move on from 802.11g--to cap the problem that may plague the future of 'N' products--will "G" products become "the unloved child of the Wi-Fi industry", the Ovum analyst posed.

"If the Wi-Fi Alliance is so confident [of the second draft of 802.11n], then we see few reasons why the final ratified specifications of 802.11n should differ from [the] certified Draft 2.0," he said.

According to Main, the "lengthened timescale" to the finalized version of 802.11n suggests there will be differences.

"Leading service providers are largely staying away from draft 802.11n products for mass-market wireless offerings and are sticking with the 802.11b and 802.11g [standards]," he said. "Consumers might be best advised to do the same."