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Upgrading - 11b and other stuff

If the initial going is any indication, owners of 802.11b and a/b products may need an extra measure of patience in their wait for WPA upgrades. The only WPA-upgraded 11b products that I know of right now are Cisco's 802.11b Aironet 1100 and 11a/b Aironet 1200, Linksys' WPC11 ver3 client card, and 3Com's AP8000 series.

Cisco released their updates without a peep in early June, actually beating out most other companies. But a WPA update for their Aironet 350 client hasn't been issued yet, so Cisco's solution is incomplete.

Linksys gets an attaboy for at least trying to do the right thing for its significant installed base of these cards. But what Linksys giveth, it also taketh away, since it has yet to make WPA upgrades available for any of its 11b Access Points or wireless routers, and will only say "soon" when asked when those upgrades might be available.

A poll of the usual suspects on their 11b product WPA-update plans garnered the following responses:

SMC - Its May 1 announcement said "its portfolio of wireless networking products will include support for the new Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) by the end of this quarter" (end of June).

U.S. Robotics - told me it should have WinXP-only WPA support in all its TI-based "802.11b+" 22Mbps products by early August. Updates are expected to be first available for USR's PC Card and PCI adapters by the end of June, followed by access point/router support "several weeks later".

ZyXEL - "WPA functionality will be built into the ZyAIR product line starting in mid-July. We are also on schedule for July WPA certification testing through the Wi-Fi Alliance."

And what about products like Linksys' WET11 and WET54G Wireless Ethernet Bridges as well as straight wireless bridges, bridge/repeaters, etc.? It turns out that the hangup seems to be the supplicant (more about supplicants in the next section).

The code to implement each supplicant EAP variation (EAP-MD5, EAP-TLS, etc.) is pretty sizable, especially considering the limited flash memory in these devices, which is where it has to reside. This means that designers of bridging devices will probably be selective about which WPA authentication methods they support, and that it will take longer to finish WPA support for these devices.

If I pull myself back from all the individual press releases, emails and conversations, two things clearly stand out:

1) Manufacturers are putting their primary WPA efforts behind their current-generation 802.11g and a/b/g products.

2) WPA upgrade support for older products is not guaranteed. Manufacturers' commitments to providing the upgrades vary widely, with timetables tending toward later rather than sooner.

Conclusion 1: With limited product development resources, WLAN product manufacturers are putting their effort behind 11g and hoping 11g's higher throughput will entice users to abandon their 11b products, relieving demand for those WPA upgrades.

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