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IEEE's Multimedia Mover

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) is working on a wireless LAN specification, called 802.15.3, that uses the same radio band as 802.11 but considerably improves multimedia performance over the existing specification.

In fact, on the face of it, 802.15.3 kicks 802.11b's butt. The initial implementations of the new spec have a throughput of 45 Mbit/s plus and have a range of around 100 meters, James Gibbs, technical editor for the 802.15.3 working group, told Unstrung in an email.

The current 802.11b specification has a maximum data transfer speed of 11 Mbit/s and a range of 100 meters, although the emerging a and g specifications ramp the maximum data transfer rate up to 54 Mbit/s (see IEEE Plots Speedier WLAN for more on the distinction between throughput and data-transfer rates).

802.15.3 will also support video streaming and other such multimedia trickery, something that isn't part of current 802.11 specifications. And it's expected to use less power than the WLAN spec.

However, Gibbs doesn't expect that the multimedia spec will supplant current 802.11 wireless LAN standards when initial products using the new technology come online at the end of next year. Instead he anticipates that some vendors may well take advantage of the fact that 802.11b and 802.11g both use the same 2.4GHz radio band.

Gibbs expects that such multimode chips could be on the market by 2005 or 2006. "I guess it depends on consumer demand," he says.

Chips that support multiple wireless standards are likely to be the way of the future if the standards bodies continue to develop and refine new transport mechanisms. Especially since there will be a large amount of legacy 802.11b kit in use a few years from now.

802.15.3 has been designed to connect multimedia-enabled consumer electronics (that is, devices under $500). However, Gibbs also sees applications for wireless and wireline carriers down the pipe.

"There are some interesting models for wireless carrier applications (i.e., for hotspot delivery of multimedia content)," he writes. "The cost, size and power are consistent with the requirements for cell phones."

On the wired side, Gibbs says there are uses for cable operators. For example, the techology could hook up multiple TVs to a single distribution point. Voice carriers can provide enhanced digital services (e.g., VOIP) while maintaining a high qualtiy of service.

Which is all very nice. However, the new specification could also significantly add to the traffic on the unlicensed 2.4GHz band. There are already signs of overcrowding at large events where a lot of WLAN networks are running (see N+I: Noise Report) and that's before voice and video traffic gets added to the mix.

It could get very noisy out there, people.

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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