Wi-Fi Alliance defends early certification

Organisation's managing director claims there is broad support for the decision to start certifying 802.11n equipment before the standard is finalised

The managing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance has defended his organisation's decision to start certifying draft 802.11n equipment before the standard is finalised.

802.11n is the latest iteration of Wi-Fi, promising higher throughput, range and bandwidth than its predecessors. However, the standard will not be finalised by standards body the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) until as late as March 2009, a situation that prompted the Wi-Fi Alliance, which is a collection of wireless equipment manufacturers, to start "draft" certifying some equipment as of June this year.

In an interview with ZDNet.co.uk, the Wi-Fi Alliance's managing director, Frank Hanzlik, claimed there is now broad support for that unprecedented and controversial decision. "The IEEE kept moving its ratification more and more, and pre-standard products were coming out," said Hanzlik on Tuesday. "We were concerned that if we didn't act, there would be the potential for a bad user experience. Everybody now feels it was the right decision and a good compromise in terms of doing the right thing for the market, while staying aligned with the goals of the IEEE. We had good support from our membership — people believe it's not real until the Wi-Fi Alliance says it's real."

While discussing Motorola's decision to delay producing 802.11n equipment until the standard is finalised, Hanzlik admitted there were "no guarantees" of compatibility between certified draft-n products, and products conforming to the final standard. But he insisted that "with any new technology there is always a trade-off. If [enterprises'] goal is to have interoperability with 802.11a/b/g, they are not taking a risk at all," he said. "If their objective is to absolutely, positively have a future upgrade path, there is always potential for a little bit of grey there. The risk is pretty low, but not zero."

"A lot of it depends on how aggressive an enterprise wants to be with new technology," Hanzlik continued. "Some enterprises probably still have 802.11b and it's working for them, and that's super. Talking to [analysts], a lot of folks are starting to get comfortable with what [802.11n] technology can do for them. A lot of enterprises, even if they're not ready for full-scale deployment, like the idea that, now the Wi-Fi Alliance is behind it, they can start experimenting with a few nodes, or a greenfield application."

Hanzlik said that, although companies such as Cisco are trying to push it into the enterprise market, "draft-n is significantly more focused on the consumer space".

He claimed that some bandwidth-intensive video-streaming products such as the draft-n Apple TV device "really need" 802.11n, and suggested that — as happened with 802.11n's predecessor, 802.11g — the new technology would probably be more heavily driven by manfacuturers providing it in their products than customers demanding it.

In May, the IEEE convened a working group to develop the successor to 802.11n, currently known only as Very High Throughput (VHT). Hanzlik noted how VHT should offer speeds of more than 1Gbps — 802.11n offers a theoretical 248Mbps — but he predicted that 802.11n would nevertheless "have a long life".

"Maybe seven years down the road we will have new needs," Hanzlik said.