Wi-Fi Alliance won't wait for IEEE

Tangle, delays on 802.11n prompts two-phase certification

“I-triple-what?” was the question being asked last week, after the Wi-Fi Alliance said it will start certifying next-generation wireless LAN products by the first half of 2007, regardless of whether the IEEE has signed off on new wireless specifications for them.

The announcement last Tuesday was a break from tradition for the Alliance, which tests and certifies wireless LAN products from different vendors for interoperability; typically, the group waits until the IEEE has fully certified a wireless standard before testing products against it and putting its seal of approval on those that pass the test.

In question is final approval of a specification for 802.11n, a proposed wireless standard that would support data throughput of 100Mbps or higher.

A nasty fight over how to use multiple antennas and radios to achieve that performance boost has pushed back the expected approval of the specification several times. Final ratification of the specification is now scheduled for April 2008. With Wi-Fi products supporting some 802.11n features already available, the Wi-Fi Alliance couldn’t wait around, said Managing Director Frank Hanzlik.

The Alliance will use a two-phase certification process, testing for interoperability against whatever parts of the standard it believes are solid and unlikely to change, Hanzlik said. In Phase 2, the Alliance will use the approved IEEE standard, whenever it’s finished.

Vendors strongly back the Wi-Fi Alliance’s dual-stage plan, even though some chip set makers have already performed interoperability tests for draft 802.11n products, Hanzlik claimed.

“The only way to really get the right kind of user experience is if there’s an industrywide interoperability program,” Hanzlik added.