Intel does the Right Thing

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Tim Higgins

In the webcast, Intel played up all the testing they had done to, perhaps, convince themselves that draft 11n technology would produce real benefits. And the video of their test robot—complete with collision-avoidance sonar and notebook-rotating turntable—wandering the halls of what looked like an abandoned office area to perform automated rate vs. range testing, certainly showed they had spent some significant bucks on the effort. They also tested in a number of actual homes, again, to see whether draft 11n products would really live up to Intel’s simple “5X Throughput, 2X Range” product message.

However, the move that separates Intel from the pack and that is fitting of an industry leader was that Intel said its first release of draft 11n product will not enable 40 MHz (channel bonding) operation in the 2.4 GHz band. Note that Intel’s position is to not enable 40 MHz instead of just setting a default mode of 20 MHz bandwidth and leaving the ability to change to the “bad neighbor” channel-bonding mode intact.

The more interesting part of this decision is that draft 1.10 reverses the mess caused by draft 1.0 and includes three mechanisms intended to make 11n products play nicely with legacy 11b/g products by controlling when 40 MHz mode may be used. But Dave Hofer, director of wireless marketing for the mobile platforms group at Intel, explained that it will take awhile for Intel to do the work required to get existing drivers and firmware compliant with the 1.10 draft. And since Intel wanted to launch now so that its customers could get Intel draft 11n into the Vista notebooks coming out in a few weeks, Intel decided to just disable 40 MHz operation in the 2.4 GHz band.

Of course, I’ll reserve final judgement until I get some “Connect with Centrino” certified products in and bang on ’em to see what they really do. But while this decision might give Intel a disadvantage vs. the competition in terms of bragging rights to highest throughput, it gives the company a clear claim to being the only draft 11n product vendor to adopt and implement a “do no harm” (to existing wireless LANs) product philosophy. Way to go, Intel! Perhaps a new day in wireless LANs is finally starting to dawn.

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