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802.11n: WLANs to 600 Mbit/s

The upcoming 802.11n standard could offer far higher data transfer rates than has previously been reported, according to some folks involved in the standards process

The 802.11n standard is seen by many industry commentators as the next great leap forward for wireless LAN technology because it will -- in theory, at least -- provide the kind of horsepower needed for multimedia (voice/video/data) applications in the home and at work.

Most people have said that 802.11n will offer data transfer rates double that of the current 802.11a/g standards, with potential rates of 108 Mbit/s.

But Bill McFarland, CTO of wireless LAN chipmaker Atheros Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: ATHR), says the resulting standard could offer far greater data rates: "Up to 600 Mbit/s," he predicts.

The 802.11n standard had been derailed for months by in-fighting between the TGn Sync and wWise groups (not to be confused with the pop band, NSYNC). Both of which had been pushing alternative technical proposals for the standard. The two groups have now buried the hatchet and will start to work together on a joint proposal at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) meeting in July (see 802.11n Back on Track).

McFarland says that the combined proposal will have four main elements. Spatial multiplexing, which involves using multiple antennas to send and recieve signals, improves the speed and accuracy of transmissions. Using 40MHz channels rather than the 20MHz channels currently used "will double the amount of data that can be transmitted at one time," McFarland says. And packet aggregation and packet bursting techniques are supposed to improve performance, especially on busy wireless networks.

Part of the raison d'être of a new high-speed standard was to deliver consistent throughput of over 100 Mbit/s to users. So, as McFarland says, while most users won't see data transfer rates of 600 Mbit/s on busy networks, 802.11n is being designed to allow consistent rates of around 108 Mbit/s.

The combined proposal is expected to be presented to the IEEE in November.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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