High-speed wireless kit to be certified next month

With certification imminent, concerns have been raised that current 802.11n equipment may not match the final standard when it is confirmed in two years' time

High-speed wireless networking equipment will be certified in June, despite the fact the standard for the technology will not be finalised for two years.

The Wi-Fi Alliance — whose membership consists of wireless-equipment vendors — will certify equipment according to a draft version of 802.11n. The final version of the standard will not be finished until March 2009, according to the alliance.

The delay between certification and the final standard could mean that access points and client devices cease to interoperate in two years' time when the standard is complete.

On Wednesday, the Wi-Fi Alliance revealed the logo for Draft 2.0 of the 802.11n standard. The logo will be placed on all certified products using the technology. 802.11n promises up to five times the throughput and twice the range of the previous fastest standard, 802.11g, and it works in both previous frequencies: 2.4GHz and 5GHz.

"This milestone means that consumers and business users alike can feel confident that the 802.11n products they buy will deliver the user experience they require," said the Wi-Fi Alliance's managing director, Frank Hanzlik.

The draft 802.11n standard is integral to Centrino Pro, the latest iteration of Intel's mobile platform. Intel's 4965AGN network adapter will be one of the first 802.11n products to be certified. Products bearing the new logo will have to be compatible with 802.11a/b/g products and tested for interoperability with other draft-n equipment.

The publication date for the finalised standard, which has to be approved by standards body the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), has been repeatedly pushed back. Some observers claim that infighting between vendors is the cause. The Wi-Fi Alliance estimates that 802.11n will only be ratified in March 2009, but it announced last year that it was to start certifying products early because it would not be "in the best interest of the industry" to wait.

"Draft 2.0 is widely considered to provide a stable foundation for commercial products," explained Karen Hanley, senior director at the Wi-Fi Alliance. "With this new certification program, the Wi-Fi Alliance is encouraging the industry to work towards a specific draft version of the standard against which all certified equipment will be tested." She said that testing would begin in June, and that certified products would be available "by August".

"It is possible, but not yet determined, that this [final] certification may expand the requirements to include more advanced features," Hanley added. "At this point it is not possible to determine whether 'forward compatibility' with the final standard will exist, but it is widely believed that at least some manufacturers will be able to upgrade equipment via a software update."

The Wi-Fi Alliance has produced a white paper and a list of certified products.

Draft 802.11n product sticker

The 802.11n Draft 2.0 product logo will be found on all certified products