Adding it all up
So what does all of this mean? Should you buy or not? Here are my take-aways from my first 802.11g experience:
802.11g is a pretty impressive technical feat, and is currently capable of producing maximum usable throughput of around 20Mbps. But it appears that this first implementation has a "throughput hopping" "feature", that cyclically moves the maximum throughput down to 12Mbps - a 40% drop. I suspect that this "feature" will be common to all Broadcom-based products, but since I haven't yet seen the Linksys products, I can't say for sure.
The first bullet reinforces my point that there will be a number of firmware releases between now and a stable, standards-compatible product. Anyone buying now should be prepared to deal with debugging and performing multiple firmware upgrades.
- Although there is no guarantee that any draft 802.11g product will conform to the 802.11g spec when it is finally released toward the beginning of Q2 2003, it's a reasonably sure bet that you won't end up having to junk your draft-11g products and buy new stuff when the standard is released. But I'd like to see draft-11g manufacturers provide the missing guarantee, so that consumers don't get stuck holding products that don't work, come mid 2003.
Update 1/3/2003 - I guess someone at Buffalo was listening. Shortly after this review, BuffaloTech stepped up to the plate and added this statement at the bottom of their webpages for the WBR-G54 and WLI-CB-G54:
NOTE TO OUR CUSTOMERS:
As you may know, IEEE802.11g is slated to be certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance in mid 2003. We understand this could affect current 802.11g technology. We are dedicated to ensuring that our customers have the most current and reliable products available on the market today. If the certification materially changes the principal operating features of our pre-standard 802.11g products, we will replace or upgrade any of those products at no charge and provide toll-free technical support. We thank you for your loyalty and confidence in our products.
- Although Buffalo Tech isn't as well-known as the more popular consumer-networking companies, they're not newbies to the industry. They are actually a subsidiary of Melco, Inc, a $650M Japanese manufacturer of memory, storage, and networking products, and one of the first companies to introduce a consumer-priced 802.11b Access Point a few years ago when the whole consumer 802.11b industry started to take off. But with a narrower distribution, and low brand-recognition, they'll have their work cut out for them.
If it were my money, I'd wait a month or so (Jan 2003) and let someone else find the other bugs and give Broadcom some time to get rid of their throughput-hopping "feature".