Wi-Fi standard impasse makes 802.11n merger likely

The leaders of the rival proposals for faster Wi-Fi are expected to meet face-to-face next week, to discuss a truce following the IEEE's 802.11n task group failure to reach agreement.

"The IEEE .11n ballot was a good result," said Dave Borison, director of product marketing at Airgo. "It's a wake-up call for both camps. We want to move forward and get a standard in place. Within the next quarter, or two at the most, we will have a compromise."

Airgo's call is no surprise. The WWISE proposal, which Airgo supports, is back on the table at the task group, because the previous front runner, TGn Sync, backed by Intel, had dropped back from 57 percent in March support to less than 50 percent. The call for compromise has more weight now than when Airgo made the same call in March.

"Over the last couple of months, support has been shifting to WWISE," said Borison. Both proposals use MIMO (multiple input multiple output), but Airgo has a big lead in the market. Many MIMO products are based on Airgo chips, and Borison claims these products now have three percent of the consumer market for Wi-Fi products.

"Nobody will get a super-majority [the 75 percent needed to become a draft standard] without compromise," said Borison. "The leading companies from both camps can put together a proposal that both companies can support."

The two proposals can be brought together quite easily, said Borison, although some differences may have to be accommodated as options within the standard. TGn Sync uses 40MHz channels, instead of the 20MHZ channels which are standard worldwide, and the two standards use different numbers of antennas. TGn also uses the 5GHz spectrum instead of the 2.4GHz band where WWISE (and Airgo) operate.

In any case, users should not let the 802.11n debate worry them in making product choices, said Borison. "802.11n products will be backwards compatible with existing Wi-Fi - we guarantee that ours will be. So today's MIMO products will work with 802.11n products when they are delivered." Even if they are working in 802.11g or 802.11a mode, there will still be performance benefits, as MIMO products improve performance even when only used at one end of a link, he said.

Meanwhile, the market for MIMO silicon may get more crowded, as Metalink of Israel announced a single-chip real MIMO RF system. The chip can work with Wi-Fi silicon from other vendors, and is part of a planned MIMO system from Metalink. The chip uses the 5GHz band, and is backward compatible with 802.11a. It will support whatever 802.11n standard is agreed, the company promises.

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