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Drafting 'N' Solution

9:00 AM -- It seems unlikely to me that the “Draft n” controversy goes away any time soon. For the record, I’ve never been in favor of claiming compliance with a draft standard. A draft is just that -- a work in progress. The confusion surrounding all of the claims of the Draft-n crowd, most notably interoperability and the (very unlikely, in my opinion) possibility of future upgradeability, hasn’t helped anyone.

And yet, even I have to admit that individually the Draft-n units aren’t half bad products and, more importantly, they are a lot better than plain old .11g in throughput and range. And, while I’ve not tested these for backwards compatibility with .11g (none are WiFi approved, after all), let’s assume they're compatible, for the moment.

If so, there may be an interim solution for the Draft-n crowd -- rather than positioning their products as a step to the future, instead repositioning them as a bridge to the past. This is what I’ve often called the “better g than g” strategy. These products offer much improved throughput and range over .11g while maintaining (I think, anyway) backwards compatibility. So a current .11g client embedded in a notebook will perform better when talking to a MIMO-based AP; MIMO isn’t required on both ends. And putting members of the same product family on both ends, thus allowing the highest speed and greatest range, is still an option, albeit a proprietary one (let’s drop the interoperability claims). And I think that’s fine for now; interoperability with a future standard isn’t high on the list of requirements of residential users.

Of course, as I previously noted, the Wi-Fi Alliance may step in and certify some interim edition of .11n, thus giving everyone a rallying point for interoperability. I don’t think this is likely before the second draft of .11n is done (perhaps late first quarter next year), when I expect most of the vendors to be on the same page with respect to a definition of exactly what .11n is -- at least at that point in time.

— Craig Mathias is Principal Analyst at the Farpoint Group , an advisory firm specializing in wireless communications and mobile computing. Special to Unstrung

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