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The journey has just begun

The 802.11g standard will eventually take its place among the most-used wireless LAN technologies. When all the bugs are shaken out and this difficult birthing period is only a memory, its combination of high speed, good performance in a residential environment, and compatibility with the huge installed base of 802.11b equipment will make it a virtually guaranteed winner.

But in the meantime, I wouldn't be so quick to part with my money for draft-11g products just yet. Here's my short list of why:

  • The benefit doesn't yet outweigh the risk - Most home wireless LAN users don't need the extra speed that 11g provides. Their Internet connection speed is limited to about 1Mbps or so and they have only one or two wireless clients - hardly enough to cause problems from bandwidth competition. And more to the point, how many home users really want (or have the skills) to be debugging the products they pay good money for?

  • You haven't seen most of the players - Most of the current brouhaha is based on Broadcom-based products only. Intersil is just entering the market, and the real OFDM expert, Atheros, won't be shipping product for a few months yet. Maybe Broadcom is the best of breed, but considering the competition, I wouldn't bet with my money yet.

  • WPA is coming - This step up in security from WEP is supposed to be rolling out any time now (Q1 / Q2 2003). It will throw another variable into the product selection equation, and has the potential to be another drag on throughput if it's not implemented correctly, or the chipset it's run on doesn't have enough poop to handle the extra load from TKIP. All the current generation chipsets should be able to handle WPA without affecting throughput, but...

  • The next step - It's likely that where we'll end up is with tri-mode / dual band products that handle the 802.11a, b, and g standards. I hope vendors will hold off until the 11g standard is at least close to release before launching this salvo. But there's already a rumor that D-Link will start shipping Atheros-based tri-mode product this month (February).

    Revised March 10, 2003 It appears that the "next step" is already here. As of early March, NETGEAR, Linksys and D-Link all announced tri-mode (a/b/g) products, with NETGEAR going with Atheros for their entire product line. These introductions have already resulted in significant price reductions on draft-11g only products.

  • 11b isn't obsolete - The biggest argument heard for buying right now is "I don't want to buy obsolete stuff". But 11b isn't obsolete. It's the #1 wireless technology right now and that isn't going to change over night. The 11b product selection is huge, prices are cheap (and likely to get cheaper) as vendors dump 11b product to clear inventories for 11g. 11g preserves your investment in 11b products and lets you make the change when you need / want to.

  • The big guys ain't buyin' - "Enterprise" buyers know an unfinished technology when they see one, but also sometimes go for it when they see a strategic advantage. They're not seeing one in 11g yet and only buying for evaluation purposes.

I hope the information I've presented will help you separate what's happening now with the early draft-11g products from what the technology will eventually be capable of when the smoke clears. Part 2 of this NTK presents more of my test results, including my first look at Intersil-based products.

For Further Reading Revised March 12, 2003

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