Carrier WiFi

802.11n Set to Reign

Hang on to your hats, folks!

The upcoming high-speed 802.11n standard looks set to take the wireless LAN market by storm, according to the latest edition of Unstrung Insider.

The report -- "Wireless LAN Chipsets: MIMO and the Road to 802.11n" -- claims that the availability of faster wireless LAN technology will open up major new consumer and enterprise markets for chipset vendors.

With an expected usable throughput of at least 108 Mbit/s per device, 802.11n will double the rate of today’s 802.11a (54-Mbit/s over 5GHz) standard (see IEEE Plots Speedier WLAN).

“We’re about to see a step change in functionality for wireless LAN devices,” states report author Gabriel Brown. “This affects the entire 802.11 sector in a big way.

“The future 802.11n standard will be a vital battleground for chipmakers. Vendors that get their design, timing, pricing, and marketing right stand to win share in the potentially huge consumer electronics market and the fast-growing enterprise systems market.”

The standard should open up a whole new market for products that deliver multiple wireless streams of high-quality audio and video in the home.

In the enterprise, 802.11n will mean more bandwidth for applications like voice and video over WLAN and that old favorite, videoconferencing.

Of course -- this being the wireless industry -- there’s already a fight brewing over the best way to draft the official specification, due for completion sometime around 2006.

There are apparently over 60 proposals on the table in total, but chipset vendors have split into two major factions in support of their preferred flavor of 802.11n technology (see Don't Go to War Over .11n).

Here's a table from the new Insider that lays out how the two sides shape up.

Table 1: Comparison of Possible Proposals to 802.11 TGn
NSynch WWiSE Not Declared
Chipset Members Atheros, Agere, Philips, Intel Airgo, Broadcom, Conexant, ST Micro, Texas Instruments, IceFyre, Realtek, Engim, Marvell, Atmel, others
Combined Chipset Market Share* 30% - 50% 50% - 70% 5%
System Members Nortel, Cisco, Sony, Toshiba, Nokia, Matsushita, Samsung Mitsubishi, Motorola Not applicable
IP Licensing RAND RAND-Z Not applicable
Channel Width 10 MHz, 20 MHz, and 40 MHz mandatory 20 MHz mandatory, 40 MHz optional 20 MHz
No. channels in 5GHz band 14 24 Not applicable
MIMO 2 antennas mandatory, 4 antennas optional 4 antennas mandatory Various
Raw data rate 250 Mbit/s (2x125 Mbit/s), expandable to 500 Mbit/s Unconfirmed info indicates 216 Mbit/s (4x56 Mbit/s) Various
Frequencies 5 GHZ mandatory, 2.4 GHZ optional 5 GHZ mandatory, (no information available on 2.4 GHz) Not applicable

Source: Unstrung Insider

“At this stage, the signs are that 802.11n could turn into a classic vendor face-off, where powerful companies take up intractable positions for technical, commercial, and political reasons,” warns Brown.

Hmmm, déjà vu, anyone?

— Justin Springham, Senior Editor, Europe, Unstrung

Chipset vendors' product strategies for the upcoming high-throughput 802.11n standard are analyzed in "Wireless LAN Chipsets: MIMO and the Road to 802.11n," which is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Unstrung Insider priced at $1,350. Individual reports are available for $900.

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