12:20 PM -- The Wi-Fi Alliance ’s controversial decision to produce an interoperability spec based on the next draft of 802.11n is exactly what they should be doing. (See WiFi's High-Speed Compromise.) I’ve been hearing and reading about a fundamental criticism that seems justified at first glance -- that the Alliance is working around the standards process that it was initially formed to augment. But the Wi-Fi Alliance isn’t an arm of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) , and in reality there is no necessary relationship between the two.
The Alliance is a trade association. By definition, trade associations exist to look out for the common interests of their members, who usually are otherwise competitors. The core missions of a trade association are typically the marketing and promotion of a concept or technology, lobbying to improve the regulatory environment, and specifying interoperability where appropriate. That’s exactly what the Alliance does, and they have done an absolutely stellar job of it. The Wi-Fi Alliance is in fact a textbook example of what a trade association should be.
The Alliance was, in fact, formed to capitalize on the lack of an interoperability specification regarding 802.11. The IEEE typically doesn’t get involved in such matters and leaves the definition of interoperability to third parties -- like trade associations. But note that the Wi-Fi Alliance has no real relationship to the IEEE, and can specify anything it wants. The WiFi Spec (what one meets to be able to put the sticker on a product’s box) is actually a subset of 802.11; it’s not a compliance, conformance, or compatibility verification of any form regarding 802.11.
As it turns out, many of the leading members of the Alliance got themselves into a serious pickle by butchering the announcement of “draft n,” again, whatever that means. The products are generally not interoperable between vendors, not as good as the previous generation of MIMO-based WLAN products in terms of performance, and, perhaps most importantly with respect to our discussion here, not WiFi approved. The Alliance was in fact in danger of losing control of the market if they did not act to put in place an interim spec, especially in light of the serious delays in the formal development of 802.11n.
I’d urge the Alliance, however, not to call whatever it is they produce “draft n” or anything else with a standalone “n” in the name. They should not get bogged down in issues like upgradeability. Call it “super-duper better than .11g,” or some such, but leave out any reference to “n.” And here’s hoping the vendors of “draft n” will cool their marketing jets a little as well.
— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung