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The New 802.11n Standard


The upcoming IEEE 802.11n standard is expected to improve the range and speed of wireless LANs to rival 100-Mbps Ethernet over Cat 5. In addition to traditional data traffic, these new WLANs should be able to carry real-time applications such as VoIP and DVD-quality video with bandwidth to spare.

The stakeholders in the move to 802.11n-based WLANs are chipset manufacturers, infrastructure vendors and mobile device makers. The silicon that drives WLAN devices is in the hands of chipset manufacturers, such as Airgo, Atheros, Broadcom and Intel. Infrastructure vendors Aruba, Bluesocket and Cisco will use these 802.11n chipsets to produce enterprise APs for use with WLAN clients, such as those produced by Dell, HP and Lenovo.

There's no doubt 802.11n will deliver blazingly fast speeds under ideal conditions, but the upcoming technology will require special considerations in an enterprise. Given the fact that ratification of the standard is set for early 2008, don't expect cutting-edge 802.11n WLANs to become common for a few years. That said, it's never too early to begin planning.

After years of waiting out the standards battle, wireless networks are getting ready for the speedy 802.11n. With its peak data throughput reaching the golden 100-Mbps threshold, this marks the first time a wireless technology will rival the network-edge-access incumbent, wired Fast Ethernet. Although Ethernet jacks won't disappear for some time, 802.11n brings with it the prospect of computing in which the preferred method of jumping on the network is wireless rather than wired.

The standard won't be finalized until 2008, but many consumer "pre-N" products are appearing on store shelves. Based on a draft of the final standard, these products offer increases in range and throughput as long as both the access point (AP) and client device use identical chipsets from the same vendor. This stipulation may be fine in a small office or home office, but an enterprise is likely to see little benefit to using "pre-N" gear because most client devices support only the slower 802.11a/b/g standards, and upgrading all client devices to "pre-N" gear is impractical.

Particularly noteworthy is the lack of interoperability among "pre-N" consumer products. Netgear sells two RangeMax Next AP products, the WN511B (based on Broadcom's Intensi-fi chipset) and the WN511T (based on Marvell's TopDog chipset), for example, and claims both are compliant with the draft version of 802.11n 1.0, but when a client based on one "pre-N" chipset is connected to an AP based on different "pre-N" chipset, their peak speeds barely rival 802.11g performance.

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