Intel eases Wi-Fi interference from 802.11n chips

Chip giant will only allow channel bonding on the 5MHz spectrum to prevent its new wireless chips from interfering with older networks.

Intel's next-generation 802.11n Wi-Fi chips will only tout channel bonding in the 5GHz spectrum to prevent interference with older variants of the wireless technology.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia in a phone interview, Taiwan-based Michael Chen, Intel's Asia-Pacific director of embedded sales group, said channel bonding will not be enabled on Intel's 802.11n Centrino chips--formally announced last week--if the chips operate on the 2.4GHz spectrum. Intel's latest wireless module and other equipment based on the 802.11n standard, can operate on both 2.4GHz and 5GHz spectrums.

A key 802.11n feature, channel bonding uses two channels in the Wi-Fi spectrum to transfer more data, compared to existing Wi-Fi technology which uses only one channel, Chen said. However, if channel bonding is implemented on the 2.4GHz spectrum--used by existing 802.11b/g Wi-Fi gear and digital cordless phones--interference could occur.

"That is part of our efforts to make our technology more compatible with older Wi-Fi technology," Chen said.

Even without channel bonding, 802.11n still allows sustained data rates of 50Mbps, which is twice as fast as 802.11g. With channel bonding, 802.11n transfer rates can reach close to 100Mbps.

Notebook makers including Asus, Acer, Gateway and Toshiba, together with network equipment vendors Belkin, Buffalo, D-Link and Netgear, will from this week begin to introduce notebook PCs and routers that support the 802.11n standard.

Apart from higher access speeds, the next-gen wireless technology also touts up to an hour of extra notebook battery life, wider network coverage and better handling of broadband applications, such as high-definition multimedia content and Net telephony, Chen said.

He added that much of the benefits 802.11n is tipped to deliver stems from the MIMO (multiple input multiple output) technology, which uses multiple radios to transmit more data. Channel bonding is also a key feature in MIMO.

However, the IEEE 802.11n--which the new Intel chip is based on--is still a draft standard and is not expected to be finalized until later this year. According to Chen, the Wi-Fi Alliance will only begin to certify products based on the draft standard in the second quarter of this year.

He said that Intel's "Connect With Centrino" interoperability testing program will ensure the chipmaker's wireless chipsets, based on the 802.11n draft standard, will be compatible with other wireless equipment in future.

However, according to a research note released by Gartner last week, enterprises should avoid adopting early releases of the 802.11n standard since it is far from being finalized.

Gartner said: "More discussion is likely to occur before the 802.11n specification is ratified, which could lead to further changes, and interoperability testing by the Wi-Fi Alliance is still required.

"Nevertheless, chip vendors have been quick to support the standard, which adoption could enable them to raise prices on wireless LAN products to cover the costs of modification," the analyst said.

Gartner also noted that chip vendors that claim their products comply with the 802.11n specification may be misleading to customers, in part because they are premature since the specification is likely to undergo further changes over the year.

"Also, customers may mistakenly infer that these chips can be made compliant through upgrades," the research house said. "In the past, with 802.11g, a similar rush to marketing occurred and [had] included promises regarding the ability to upgrade that were not met."