Big players push for 802.11n standard

Several companies are working on a new wireless specification

More than two dozen leading wireless LAN companies have formed an industry coalition to create and submit a spec for the IEEE’s next generation wireless LAN standard — 802.11n.

The Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC) says it aims to break a deadlock and speed up ratification of the 802.11n standard, which may go as fast as 600Mbit/s. The 27 members include big wi-fi players such as Atheros, Broadcom, Cisco and Intel, but omit one significant vendor, Airgo.

“These members represent a good cross-section of the two groups that were unable to agree to an 802.11n standard as part of the IEEE standardisation process,” says Gwen Carlson, a spokeswoman at Conexant Systems, which is an EWC member.

For the past several months, two camps had argued bitterly over a standard. Both have failed to achieve the majority support required by the IEEE. In the one camp was the World-Wide Spectrum Efficiency (WWiSE) group, which included Conexant and the player absent from EWC, Airgo. In the other corner was TGnSync, backed by Intel and Atheros among others.

WWISE and TGnSync had agreed in August to develop a compromise solution within the IEEE, but the group now calling itself EWC emerged last month as an Intel-led coalition outside the IEEE, including members of both factions.

EWC members will continue to work within the IEEE Task Group “N” in an effort to agree on an 802.11n standard, according to Carlson. However, WWISe and TGnSync did not return Computerworld calls by deadline.

Carlson says the EWC specification will benefit users by, among other things, ensuring interoperability of next-generation wireless producers across a range of brands and platforms, such as PCs, handheld devices and networking systems.

The planned 802.11n standard will significantly boost throughput on wi-fi systems. The EWC specification aims to support speeds of up to 600Mbit/s. That compares to today’s 802.11a and 802.11g throughput of 20Mbit/s to 24Mbit/s.

The EWC specification includes a number of other technical elements, such as mixed-mode interoperability with 802.11a, b and g networks, use of 2.4GHz or 5GHz unlicenced bands (thus matching the frequency plan of existing 802.11 devices), 20MHz or 40MHz channel support and spatial multiplexing modes for simultaneous transmission using up to four antennas.

The specification will also support 4 x 4 MIMO (multiple-input/multiple-output) technology, according to Carlson.

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