Wi-Fi: An Alliance Over The Line

An industry analyst questions whether the Wi-Fi Alliance has overstepped its bounds with 'pre-N' WLAN equipment.

November 8, 2004

2 Min Read
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MATHIAS_CRAIGA colleague of mine once referred to industry alliances as the "rules of engagement." This is quite apt. After all, alliances exist for the good of all members, but let's face it, said members are often fundamentally competitors. At the end of the day, some are bound to go home hungry.

Thus there's a tendency to use alliances to defend one's turf. This is particularly important in situations (like wireless) where technological evolution regularly upsets the cart. Such is the case now at the Wi-Fi Alliance, arguably the most successful trade association of all time. The alliance, starting with a strong underlying standard, succeeded in building a brand and in providing some assurance of interoperability.

But the news in a Columbus Day Wi-Fi Alliance press release threatens this happy little world. Like it or not, innovation in the Wi-Fi space is accelerating, mostly in the form of MIMO-OFDM, which is all but certain to form the basis of the upcoming 802.11n physical layer. It seems the alliance is upset that some are referring to current multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO) products as "pre-n." OK, I see their point here. I've used "pre-n" in a temporal sense; it's hard to imagine that anyone might think such a term implies any form of forward or backward compatibility at this point.

But what really bothered me was the thinly veiled threat to decertify any otherwise acceptable Wi-Fi product that contains MIMO technology. The alliance apparently now views itself as the guardian of the end-user experience and, gosh, someone might even discover that the MIMO mode causes interference to traditional traffic.

Interference? In the unlicensed bands? Heavens! We'd better put a man on that right away.No, this is about competition, defending one's turf in the face of same and stifling innovation-things that ultimately will upset the applecart no matter what. Does the alliance believe that members will simply roll over and accept this tyranny, or will they perhaps form a new alliance? This would be bad for all concerned, to say the least.

So, let's drop the threats, chill out and move forward.

Craig Mathias is principal of Farpoint Group (Ashland, Mass.).

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