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Standards Issues for Next-Generation Wi-Fi

The 802.11n Wi-Fi standard holds the promise of enabling a new generation of networking applications including multimedia distribution within the home and very high-speed data connectivity.

With a new draft 11n Draft Specification approved in March 2006, chipset vendors and equipment makers are gearing up for a new wave of market growth. However, according to a new study from ABI Research, the road ahead is full of pitfalls, and early adopters should heed the warning to "let the buyer beware" until final ratification of the standard in 2007.

"The 11n Draft Specification was the starting gun for 802.11 chipset vendors," says Alan Varghese, ABI Research's principal analyst for wireless semiconductors. Varghese adds that the leading chipset companies in the 802.11 standards such as Broadcom, Atheros, Intel, Marvell, Texas Instruments, and Conexant will now join incumbent Airgo Networks in a race to provide solutions for this incipient market.

Shipments of current-generation 802.11g ICs have taken the world by storm, hitting 150 million units this year, and manufacturers expect a much larger available market for 802.11n given the broader set of consumer electronics and networking applications that will be enabled by average data speeds of 150 Mbps and peak speeds of 600 Mbps.
But though the Draft form has had consensus, the specification still leaves many options open to interpretation and implementation.

Will there be 11n Draft chipsets and devices available in the market in 2006? According to Varghese, the answer is yes. "But," he cautions, "there will be wide variability between them, and true interoperability between vendors is still wishful thinking. So consumers and business users should be wary about their purchases, at least till final ratification of the standard, which is expected sometime in 2007."

Some chipset vendors will focus on the high performance segments of video and multimedia distribution; others will offer solutions that are "good-enough" in performance but at lower price points for segments such as data networking.

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