Wi-Fi rules require a default setting of probing at 1Mbps, but users can turn it off, Hart said. In fact, Cisco recommends its customers modify their products to probe at no less than 6Mbps or 11Mbps, he said.
Now, Hart and Myles are proposing to make the low data rates optional.
They say they aren't suggesting the removal of 802.11-1997 and 802.11b from the IEEE standard. Instead, they're proposing changes that would allow for two certification tracks at the Wi-Fi Alliance. One track would hold on to the slower speeds, while the other would gradually discourage the use of the older modes. Hart and Myles refer to the new approach as a "green" certification, saying the slow probe traffic acts like pollution in the 2.4GHz band.
To keep the change gradual, the "green" certification would actually start out with slow rates mandatory. Later, they would be optional, and eventually, vendors would have to leave those old protocols out of their products to earn the "green" certification.
Not so fast, say others in the Wi-Fi world.
"I want to make sure that when we deploy an Internet-of-things type device in the future, that it can rely on the fact that the infrastructure can support its transmissions," said VK Jones, vice president of technology at Qualcomm Atheros. His company is a major Wi-Fi silicon vendor and a subsidiary of Qualcomm, which supplies many of the chips in phones and tablets and is looking to other small connected devices for future growth.
Jones thinks the Internet of things, which may include smart electric meters, environmental sensors, health monitors and many other small, low-power devices, represents a growing class of devices that will often make use of very low Wi-Fi data rates. Range will be the key reason for this, he said: Most such connected devices will have faster standards such as 802.11g built in, but they may be so far from the nearest access point that 1Mbps is the only available rate.
For example, a smart power meter installed on the far end of a house may have to go through several walls to get to the home's Wi-Fi Internet gateway, he said. A 1Mbps rate may be the only option for achieving that distance.
"You can rely on the fact that the infrastructure today in the home supports 1Mbps. We'd lose something powerful about Wi-Fi that we have today if we eliminated that," Jones said.
The Hart and Myles proposal suits the enterprise market that is Cisco's bread and butter, he said. In offices, range is less important than capacity, and the newer wireless LANs being used in enterprises have access to the 5GHz band and its riches of additional spectrum uncluttered by 2.4GHz-only devices, Jones said. But not all Wi-Fi fits that profile. "We need to take into account all market segments," he said.
Jones was there for Hart's presentation and brought up his objections there. "We had a nice discussion about it," he said, adding that he and Hart are friends.
Hart presented the idea in the 802.11's Maintenance Task Group, which addresses technical issues not covered by the special groups that craft new standards such as those that periodically boost the speed of Wi-Fi. The next step will be for members to check within their companies to find out who may want to continue using older protocols. Members of the Maintenance group are now due to exchange comments on the plan. Hart hopes to have those comments resolved by July.
The two sides aren't necessarily on the brink of a standards war. Both Jones and Hart are in favor of approaching the Wi-Fi Alliance for its help in addressing the issue. Jones said there may be new ways to address the lower rates but that it's important to know what the current and future markets for those technologies look.
"What we're not open to is being hasty and to putting in motion a series of events that has these important modes not available any longer," Jones said.