Atheros and Broadcom combine over 802.11n

Atheros and Broadcom have moved to head off criticism of their draft-compliant 802.11n products by holding their own interoperability tests.

The tests, held over the last month, show that Atheros' XSPAN and Broadcom's Intensi-fi chipsets connect with a throughput greater than 100Mbit/s, using mandatory modes of the current IEEE 802.11n draft specification, according to the companies.

"The excellent performance demonstrated between Atheros and Broadcom devices shows that the 802.11n draft, when adhered to and properly implemented, supports multi-vendor interoperability," said Bill McFarland, chief technology officer of Atheros,.

The companies, which are holding interoperability demonstrations at the Computex conference in Taiwan on 6 -10 June, argued that the pre-standard kit could offer users an easy transition to gear tested and certified by broader industry groups -- something about which industry observers have expressed plenty of scepticism.

"Multi-vendor interoperability is the clear goal for next generation Wi-Fi because it alleviates the incompatibility and limited selection of products that plague users of proprietary products," said Bill Bunch, director of 802.11n product management for Broadcom's Home and Wireless Business Unit.

The companies said they expect to carry out more tests between various big wireless companies to ensure an increasing number of systems can work together. "Over the coming months, the testing will lay the groundwork for successful Wi-Fi Alliance testing when the organization's certification process is finalized," the companies stated.

Gartner has heavily criticized Wi-Fi vendors for claiming that recently-launched products comply with the yet-to-be-finalized 802.11n standard. The criticism followed on the heels of tests from the likes of Farpoint Group, which discovered numerous shortcomings with the pre-802.11n gear.

Among Farpoint's findings was that hardware from Airgo, that doesn't claim compliance with draft 802.11n but uses technology expected to be in the final 802.11n specification, performed significantly better than rival "compliant" gear.

The IEEE approved a draft of 802.11n in January, after much infighting, and since then several companies have released products claiming to comply with the draft. A few noted by Gartner, released in April, are the Wireless-N Broadband Router and Wireless-N Notebook Adapter from Cisco's Linksys division, and the RangeMax Next device from Netgear.

The standard is expected to allow Wi-Fi gear to attain significantly faster transmission speeds, which will maintain quality at longer distances and will be more resistant to interference, largely through a technology called MIMO (Multiple In Multiple Out). However, Gartner believes the standard will not be ratified until next year, with truly certified products shipping in the first half of 2007.

Because the final standard is so far off, Gartner believes marketing rhetoric around the draft standard is necessarily misleading. "In conversations with Gartner, customers have told us that they believe that the inclusion of 802.11n 'on the package' suggests to them that the product they are purchasing will one day be compliant with 802.11n," wrote Gartner's Ken Dulaney and Rachna Ahlawat in a research note.

At the Wireless Event in London last month, Broadcom showed a Buffalo access point, which uses the Intesi-fi chipset, achieving 120 Mbit/s actual throughput, supporting two TV streams, one of which was high-definition.

"It will be a firmware upgrade to full 802.11n," said Gordon Lindsay, Broadcom's European wireless product manager. "This is the softest Wi-Fi chipset Broadcom ever made." Lindsay was confident that any changes to the fast Wi-Fi standard, between draft and completion, would be small.

Netgear recently claimed to be first to ship a draft-802.11n wireless ADSL router, but drew criticism that the product is likely to prove inferior to its existing products.

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