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Certification to boost 802.11n adoption

Finalization of Wi-Fi standard is expected to encourage wide adoption and migration of enterprise deployments to 802.11n, says Wi-Fi Alliance.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor
A clarification was made to this story. Read below for details.

The recent ratification of 802.11n is expected to open the floodgates to enterprise adoption of the wireless protocol, as certification is an essential checkpoint for network administrators, says the Wi-Fi Alliance.

The trade association last month approved the final 802.11n wireless LAN standard, six years after the first draft version was released.

Speaking to ZDNet Asia in a phone interview, Sarah Morris, marketing manager at the Wi-Fi Alliance, said the "assurance of certification" would encourage enterprises to go ahead with large-scale 802.11n deployments.

Noting there has been "very strong adoption of 'draft n' products to date", Morris said this was a clear indicator of interest in the N specification.

Leading up to the ratification of 802.11n, the Alliance had been already certifying products based on an earlier 802.11n draft 2.0 specification, which was released in 2007. According to Morris, 750 infrastructure products have been certified based on this draft version.

In a research note last month, Gartner predicted that list prices for 802.11n products would dip by 20 to 30 percent over the next few months as a result of the ratification.

Morris added that falling equipment prices would likely be a result of higher manufacturing volumes due to raised demand.

Irwin Lazar, vice president for communications research at Nemertes Research, said in an e-mail interview, that an increase in adoption can be expected from some customers that have been waiting for final ratification. However, he added that the biggest difference would be felt from the assurance of interoperability.

According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, 802.11n is backward-compatible with its earlier draft versions, as well as standards such as a, b or g.

With this assurance of compatibility, Lazar said, vendors can now sell 802.11n equipment to enterprises that have installed products based on earlier 802.11 standards.

Interoperability between standards was a sticking point for some industry experts who advised against deploying draft-n, for fear of incompatibility with the eventual 802.11n standard.

Wi-Fi equipment maker, Aruba Networks, also advised against embarking on an enterprise-wide deployment of draft-n products, urging enterprises to hang on to their 802.11b/g equipment. However, the company later changed its position after Draft 2.0 was certified and began actively encouraging customers to adopt the new standard.

In 2007, the Alliance itself said there would be no guarantee of compatibility between products certified on draft-n and the final standard.

Site planning crucial
Because 802.11n supports throughput that is 10 times faster than the previous standard, the planning process for network site will be different for IT managers, said Morris.

She explained that 802.11n is based on MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology, which allows for a "much greater effective range" of each access point. This enables network managers to plan their layouts more effectively and "more optimally", in order to yield the most benefits from the migration to 802.11n, she added.

Lazar said: "802.11n supports more robust connections than earlier standards, so [enterprises] can deploy fewer access points placed further apart."

In planning their migration, companies should also take into consideration the physical characteristics of the office space layout, including legacy investments and applications that need to be supported, he said.

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