Wi-Fi Alliance 802.11n Certification Change Complicates Consumer Choices

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Tim Higgins

The Alliance said it is making "only small optional additions" to

its Draft 2.0 802.11n Certification test suite to create the program for the released standard. It plans to start testing in "late September", to coincide with 11n’s assumed ratification.

The confusing, and potentially troublesome, part of the Alliance’s plan, however, is that products approved under the Draft 2.0 802.11n Certification process will be allowed to "use the approved 802.11n logo without retesting". The Alliance said it is allowing this "because all Wi-Fi CERTIFIED draft 2.0 products meet the core requirements of – and interoperate with – the updated program".

But the final 11n Certification suite will also test for compliance with four "optional" features included in the released standard (packet aggregation, coexistence, three spatial streams and space-time block coding). So once the new test plan kicks in, products with different capabilities will all carry the same Certification mark. The means that consumers will need to dig into product specifications to look for evidence of the optional features, assuming that manufacturers provide the necessary details.

The optional features all affect products’ maximum throughput, which is a key selection criteria for most consumers. In particular, the three spatial stream "option", really creates a new class of products, those capable of 450 Mbps maximum link rates. The Alliance’s announcement also makes no mention of single-stream (150 Mbps maximum link rate) products, some of which are not certifiable under current Alliance policy.

In the end, today’s announcement is a good thing for Wi-Fi product manufacturers, who will be able to simply remove the "draft" from their Certification marks come later this year. But it once again places an undue burden on consumers to navigate through increasingly complex product specifications to try to figure out why their "high throughput" wireless products, aren’t.

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