Update On IEEE 802.11n and Related Companies
Alan J Weissberger
The IEEE 802.11n standard promises a 4x (or more) improvement in performance over
today's 802.11a/g standards. Not only is the basic speed much greater (130 M to 270M
bit/s per channel) than today’s WiFi, but the MAC is more efficient and channel bonding
is permitted. The increased performance along with an extended coverage area has
created a firestorm of questions and uncertainty within the IT community.
While a ratified IEEE 802.11n standard isn't expected for another 18 months (at the
earliest), several vendors have already starting shipping “PreN” products, leading more
organizations to explore how the upcoming standard should play into their WiFi upgrade
plans. Given the influx of these prestandard products and the associated hype within the
networking industry, IT administrators need to get a head start on understanding the
technology behind 802.11n and how this important WiFi standard will affect, not only
their wireless networks, but their wired infrastructures as well.
In this article, we examine highlights from an 802.11n webinar, WiFi Alliance Plans for
802.11n Standardization, 802.11n Company Developments, and look at "smart WiFi" and
802.11n for inhome IPTV distribution.
On December 6 , 2006, Xirrus (an “innovator of WiFi technology for the enterprise”)
sponsored a webinar that provided an overview of 802.11n and how this higher performing
wireless network would impact network infrastructures.
Here are a few highlights from the webinar:
‐ The increased 802.11n traffic volumes could strain today’s infrastructures. This
includes router and WiFi controller backplanes, wired network bandwidth (some
vendors offer one or two Gig Ethernet ports on their prestandard 802.11n
equipment), and power requirements
‐ 802.11b clients seriously degrade 802.11n performance and most of the benefits
of 802.11n are in the 5 GHz band. Hence, enterprise networks are moving to
802.11a and dropping 802.11b.
‐ Channel bonding an 802.11n feature doesn’t add value in enterprise
deployments. It’s best to have multiple channels available so Access Points (Aps)
can work around interference problems.
‐ Higher data rates may require 802.11n on both sides of the link. 802.11n will
provide higher capacity in the enterprise; increased range (coverage) and speed in
‐ Dual Radio 802.11n APs will require Gig Ethernet wired connections and ports.
‐ Current WiFi gear cannot handle 802.11n speeds, especially if data is encrypted
(as it should be for privacy). Most deployed WiFi equipment (wireless
routers/switches and APs) will therefore require a forklift upgrade to
adequately support 802.11n.
Figure 1. Image courtesy of Xirrus
‐ Xirrus claims they are the only truly upgradeable 802.11n platform on the market
today. It was designed from the ground up to support the standard once ratified
because it has the following features: Firmwareupgradeable MAC, Replaceable
Radios, 2Gbps Switching Fabric, Dual Gigabit Uplink Ports – these are needed to
handle the higher throughput of 802.11n.
‐ Xirrus says it allows customers to upgrade from 802.11a/b/g WiFi Arrays to
802.11a/b/g/n. “Customers who sign up for the Xirrus 802.11n Upgrade
Guarantee Program will receive a factory upgrade to 802.11n radios and
associated new software for an incremental cost over their initial investment,”
said Dirk Gates, CEO of Xirrus.
‐ 802.11n standardized and certified gear isn’t expected to be available on store
shelves until 2008. The final IEEE standard is targeted for completion in March
‐ Users interested in multivendor interoperability should wait for the 802.11n
standard to be completed along with interop testing and pressing business needs
to deploy this technology in the enterprise.
WiFi Alliance Plans for 802.11n Standardization
The following table provides a summary comparison between the various 802.11
WiFi Comparison Table
802.11b 802.11g 802.11a 802.11n
IEEE Ratified 1999 2003 1999 2008
Frequency 2.4GHz 2.4GHz 5GHz 2.4GHz/5GHz
Nonoverlapping Channels 3 3 12 3/12
Base Bandwidth 11Mbps 54Mbps 54Mbps 65Mbps /65Mbps
Channel Bonding No No No Yes
Max Bandwidth Per
11Mbps 54Mbps 54Mbps 130Mbps/270Mbps
Frustrated with the slow progress being made in the derailed 802.11n standards process
(often fraught with bickering amongst companies with competing proposals), the WiFi
Alliance which represent some 250 companies declared it would certify devices based on
the Draft 2.0 of the 802.11n specifications which are due to be voted on by the Standards
committee next March. It seems the WiFi Alliance is happy to establish itself as the
arbiter of a de facto industry standard.
The WiFi Alliance will certify the next generation of WiFi gear in two waves:
· The first phase will be based on draft 2.0 of the standard, to be released in March
· The second phase will certify equipment against the full, final version of the IEEE
802.11n standard, and is expected sometime in the first half of 2008.
Figure 2, Image courtesy of Xirrus
Related 802.11n Company Developments:
Atheros Communications is putting Gigabit Ethernet in all its 802.11n Access Points.
“Todd Antes, vice president of marketing for Atheros states, “Gigabit in massmarket
products is still a rare commodity, because it is more expensive. We want to drive it into
the mass market. We expect by 2008 that all new 802.11n AP routers will include Gigabit
Laptops will move to 802.11n next year, said Antes, announcing that some Lenovo
notebooks will include Atheros chipsets. Rival Broadcom also announced its 802.11n
chips are in laptops from Lenovo and three other manufacturers last week.
Gigabit will be used for multimedia services inside the home, said Antes: “It’s not all
about pulling things off the broadband pipe.”
QUALCOMM acquired 802.11n chip startup Airgo Networks, which possesses
intellectual property in WLAN technology and has provided WLAN products to both
manufacturers of Access Points and laptop computers. In addition to supporting Airgo's
existing business, QUALCOMM will be integrating their 802.11a/b/g and 802.11n
technology into select Mobile Station Modem(TM) (MSM(TM)) chipsets. The company
will also use this technology for chipsets on the new Snapdragon(TM) platform, which is
designed to offer ubiquitous mobile broadband connectivity.
"Airgo has an extensive history of delivering advanced wireless LAN solutions that have
revolutionized our industry segment, and we are pleased to become part of the company
we believe is the global leader in wireless technology and chipsets," said Greg Raleigh,
president & chief executive officer of Airgo Networks. "This acquisition enables
integrated products with wireless LAN and wireless WAN capabilities to deliver a
seamlessconnectivity experience for users."
Airgo has already announced what it describes as the "world's first chipset offering full
support for Draft 2.0 of the IEEE 802.11n Standard". This isn't the second draft of the
standard, which hasn't been written or voted on as yet. This is the Draft that the WiFi
alliance say they will certify against rather than wait for the final standard to be ratified.
Using “Smart WiFi” or 802.11n to Distribute IPTV within the Home
We previously published an article entitled: Promise of a Cable Less House:
The basic premise was that 802.11n (or other wireless technology) could be used to
interconnect TVs, PCs, file storage systems, digital cameras, game consoles, and various
gadgets. We have recently learned that Pioneer Telephone is using “smart WiFi”
technology from Ruckus Wireless to distribute IPTV within a home.
According to Scott Ulsaker, Video Products Manager at Pioneer Telephone, “One of the
biggest obstacles facing the IPTV deployment is the high cost of wiring and the time
associated with inhome installation.” But now, the Ruckus MediaFlex system has
allowed Pioneer to eliminate one truck roll and reduce installation times from 3.5 hours
to less than 45 minutes, thereby tripling the number of subscribers brought online each
day. Users can now enjoy locationfree TV while surfing the Internet.
For more information, please refer to:
Author’s Note: We can safely assume that the increased speed and range of 802.11n
(with built in QOS) could be advantageously used to support multiple HDTV/ SDTV
streams, as well as other media to be distributed within the home environment. In this
case, prestandard 802.11n equipment might be OK for home users, as they would
probably by all their gear from one vendor (assuming an external 802.11n modem for
their PC). However, once 802.11n is integrated into the notebook PC, standard APs and
wireless switch/routers will be required.
The San Jose Mercury News reported on December 11 , 2006 that: FUTURE HOME
NETWORKS MAY BE A COMBINATION OF TECHNOLOGIES. Please refer to:
The article is somewhat negative about IEEE 802.11n for home use. It states: “the draft
has been in the works for years and the early tests of equipment based on it have been
disappointing, analysts say. Indeed, some question whether throughput of WiFi will ever
be enough to guarantee that consumers will be able to stream highdefinition video
without seeing a choppy picture.”
Ben Bajarin, an analyst with Campbellbased Creative Strategies, is quoted in the article:
``There's no doubt about it, `802.11n' (wireless) can't do it alone.'' That's why he and
other analysts believe that the home network of the future is likely to be a combination of
multiple technologies. “The base network might run on coaxial or power line wires, but
consumers will likely extend it using wireless technologies, whether UWB or WiFi.”