11n draft 1.10: It ain’t over yet

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Tim Higgins

Chipmakers have been using the past six months or so to quietly spin new versions of draft 11n chips. I suspect some of these rev’d chips have quietly moved into the products without fanfare. Updated designs also appear in the form of dual-band products introduced at and around the Consumer Electronics Show. And I suspect other changes are still to come, especially if the industry decides to mode toward “wideband” WLANs.

As evidence of the need for consumers to still keep their wits about them, two of the “implications” listed in Atheros’ release deserve special note:

Draft 1.0 proved to be quite stable as the key technical differences between version 1.10 and 1.0 are limited to protection mechanisms for legacy devices during the operation of 40 MHz in the 2.4 band.

This makes it sound like the “protection mechanisms” are some minor issue, interesting only to wireless propeller-heads. But this is the key issue of whether to allow 11n products to be “bad neighbors” to existing 802.11b and g products. And note that Atheros doesn’t even say whether this key issue has been resolved in 1.10 and, if so, how!

Atheros’ current draft 1.0 802.11n XSPAN(TM) chips comply with the draft 1.10 specification and will require only a software update to bring legacy devices into official compliance with the anticipated final draft.

Maybe I’m being paranoid, but the “current” in the second bullet smells a bit wiggly. So I’ve asked Atheros to clarify whether all draft 11n products using its XSPAN chipsets that have been shipped to date are “current”.

Perhaps Glenn Fleishman has better sources than I, but I think it’s waay too early to issue the “all clear” for buying draft 11n products.

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But aside from lending legitamacy to a technology that has so far been most notable for further decreasing the chance of an average consumer having a successful wireless networking experience, and for getting reviewers' and pundits' shorts in a knot (myself included), Intel did something else. Something that, in my opinion, they didn't play up enough in their announcement material or webcast / conference call, and that deserves special mention.

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