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Wireless Features

Summary and Conclusions

I've covered a lot of ground and presented a lot of data, but what the heck does it all mean? I'll start by restating my summary conclusions from Part 1, but with changes and additional conclusions since Part I shown in red .

  • You'd be unlikely to notice interference between two 11g WLANs running video streams at any distance
  • Two 11g WLANs running at full speed (long downloads for example) can interfere at close range
  • It's unlikely you'd be significantly bothered by a neighbor's heavily used 802.11g WLAN while watching a wirelessly streamed video on your own.
  • A nearby Super-G WLAN running a 2Mbps video stream will probably not cause significant interference to an 11g WLAN that's also streaming a video
  • A Super-G wireless LAN running at full speed will interfere with some 11g WLANs also running at full speed. Severe throughput loss in the 11g WLAN can occur up to 30 feet away and significant throughput loss may still be seen around 50 feet
  • A Super-G WLAN running at full speed will seriously interfere with some 11g WLANs running 2Mbps streaming video even at 30 feet. The interference is essentially gone at 50 feet.
  • Dynamic Super-G-based wireless LANs do not interfere with all 802.11g and 802.11b wireless LANs operating on Channels 1 or 11, even at ranges under 10 feet
  • Super-G Interoperability problems appear to be most severe with Broadcom-based 802.11g products.

When I cut through all the public positioning and private discussions I've had with Atheros and Broadcom representatives over the past few weeks, here's what it looks like to me:

There was still significant tuning and testing left to do for Super-G, but Atheros started shipping anyway. They compounded the error by allowing - although I'm not sure they had any say in it - NETGEAR to ship the WG511T and WGT624 with code that implemented only the channel-bonding feature of Super-G.

Broadcom got wind of or discovered Super-G interoperability problems. Once they verified the problems, they took advantage of the PR opportunity provided by Comdex to go after Atheros.

Given the above scenario, and the fierce market-share battle in the WLAN market, I suppose I really can't fault Broadcom for going for it - especially since Atheros gave them the ammunition to do it. After all, these are the bad boys who thumbed their nose at both the IEEE and Wi-Fi Alliance last year and pushed draft-11g products into the marketplace, lack of standard be damned! You can hardly expect Broadcom to have rung up Atheros to let them know what they found.

On the other hand, Atheros' response of "Is Not!" is hardly detailed or informative enough for anyone trying to decide whether Broadcom's assertions have merit. This is not the 802.11a market, folks, and you don't have the benefit of being able to just shoo away any challengers. Broadcom has shown (at least to Press and Analysts, that is) their data, you need to show yours.

As for the point made by columnist Jim Louderback - that "there is absolutely no place in the market for these proprietary add-on features" - consumers apparently disagree. TI's proprietary "802.11b+" technology was flogged for all it was worth and helped D-Link and others push a lot of product with that magic 22Mbps "starburst" prominently displayed on product packaging. And while it's true that it wasn't the "bad neighbor" (to some neighbors, that is) that Super-G is made out to be, it didn't work flawlessly with all 802.11b products in the field either.

Virtually every WLAN chip and product manufacturer that I talk with says the throughput number on the front of the box sells, and the higher the number the better. 22 trumps 11, 54 beats 22, and the hope is that 108 will help win the market share war. Never mind that the biggest problem that consumers have with wireless products is insufficient range. Just put a bigger throughput number in the starburst and they will come, and better yet, buy!

So should you buy or not? Given the unsurpassed range of products based on Atheros' latest generation chipset, and the fact that no one has told Atheros to stop selling Super-G based products, I'd be hard pressed to tell you to pass them by. There are plenty of other products for sale (booster amps and high gain antennas specifically) that can interfere with nearby wireless networks and that don't have any mechanisms for adjusting their behavior if other wireless traffic is sensed.

That being said, Atheros should stop stonewalling and acknowledge and fix Super-G's problems with Broadcom-based 11g products, pronto! The problems are real and Atheros needs to get this incident behind them so that they can focus on marketing their products' merits, instead of defending against problems that their competition is only too happy to keep the spotlight on.

I just hope that Atheros hasn't dug themselves into too much of a marketing hole with their rush to market. Their latest-generation technology really is awesome, and even with Super-G turned off, can make pesky signal-eating walls seem to disappear. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a cure for what really ails the average wireless networker!

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