Responsible IT decision makers are wary of pre-standard technologies, having discovered the hard way that "pre-standard" is often code for "proprietary, premature, and/or prone to vendor lock-in." Still, sometimes you have to walk on the wild side, so when Cisco Systems offered to let us test an early version of its 1250 802.11n Draft 2.0 access point in our Syracuse University Real-World Labs, we were excited to get a glimpse of the future of enterprise WLANs.
From a performance standpoint, our testing revealed speed increases of four to six times what an 802.11a/g infrastructure can provide. And using an 802.11n access point for even legacy a/b/g clients delivered a measurable performance advantage thanks to the ability of a multiple input, multiple output (MIMO) approach to maintain high-bandwidth data rates for a larger portion of an AP's coverage area. For a/b/g voice-over-WLAN phones, this reliability translates into higher-quality calls and fewer dead spots.
We believe 802.11n's bug-shakedown period will be a less rocky version of what occurred when 802.11g was an IEEE draft: 802.11g's Wi-Fi Alliance interoperability certification occurred after the standard was finalized; in contrast, products based on 802.11n Draft 2.0 are being certified today, before the standard's ratification by the IEEE. As of this writing, 225 products, albeit predominantly oriented toward small and home offices, have received the seal of interoperability from the Wi-Fi Alliance. Notable names on that list include Apple, Aruba Networks, Atheros, Broadcom, Cisco, Intel, and Meru Networks--all big players with an economic interest in ensuring that the current crop of 802.11n Draft 2.0 products are backward and forward compatible.