After a seven-year process, 802.11n, the next generation of wireless protocols, has been blessed by the IEEE and the vendor-led WiFi Alliance, officially ratified on September 11, 2009. While most industry watchers might have expected a clarion call of the news and a flurry of press releases announcing product compatibility, the industry players have been largely silent about the event.
In speaking to a number of vendors, a common message was that their equipment has been ready for some time. Ratification simply acknowledges that the standard is complete. In the two years since the Wi-Fi Alliance began interoperability testing and certification based on the Draft 2.0 specification, WLAN vendors have repeated this same message time and again. While most see final approval as removing a barrier to adoption, they also note that many of their more conservative customers have already been taking a hard look 802.11n, which speaks to the maturity of the standard, even in draft form. Also, none of the WLAN vendors expect to require any form of software updates to their existing 802.11n products.
On the topic of the optional features added to the 802.11n specification since Draft 2.0, the responses from the vendors were somewhat of a mixed bag. A number of these add-ons, such as support for three spatial streams, are likely to require new capabilities within the wireless chipsets themselves, so are not likely to be supported in the current generation of products. Other options, notably the coexistence requirements for 40 MHz operation at 2.4 GHz, are possible with the current products and are supported, but actually contradict their recommended best practices for customers deploying 802.11n.
In the end, final approval of the standard closes the book on a long process for improved WiFi and clears away an obstacle for 802.11n to reach mainstream adoption. But if the message from the manufacturers themselves is any indication, that obstacle was cleared some time ago in the minds of their enterprise customers, so the fanfare is minimal.