Group to certify prestandard Wi-Fi gear

The Wi-Fi Alliance plans to put its stamp of approval on early 802.11n products in an effort to keep Wi-Fi moving forward.

The Wi-Fi Alliance plans to begin certifying next-generation Wi-Fi products starting in 2007 before the 802.11n standard is fully complete, a decision that should ease consumers' concerns about buying prestandard products.

The industry group, which has certified products for all the preceding 802.11 standards, including 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g, said on Monday that it is taking a two-phased approach to the 802.11n certification process.

Starting in March, after the IEEE's (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) general membership has accepted the new draft proposal for 802.11n, the Wi-Fi Alliance will begin certifying products. Once it becomes a full standard, the alliance will update its certification process to comply with the standard. The group hopes to make sure that the standard products will also interoperate with prestandard products it certifies.

Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance, said it is important for the group to keep the industry moving toward a new Wi-Fi standard that promises to increase speeds to allow for new applications, such as video, to be distributed throughout homes using Wi-Fi.

The standard, which has been batted around for more than a year, was supposed to be finalized by early 2007. But the process has been delayed, and a final standard won't likely be completed until 2008.

Meanwhile, many companies have already begun selling prestandard 802.11n equipment based on the first version of the draft standard.

"The combination of the standard being delayed a year, and the fact that there are already products on the market, made us come together and say it may not be in the best interest of the industry if we wait," Hanzlik said. "The products sold today don't interoperate. And without interoperability, users won't have the right kind of experience."

The Wi-Fi Alliance generally waits until a standard is complete before it begins certifying products. But it tried a similar two-phased approach with the 802.11i security standard when it was being developed. In 2003, the group began certifying products that complied with an interim subset of the standard called Wi-Fi Protected Access, or WPA. Then in September 2004, when the standard was complete, it began certifying products compliant with WPA 2.

Dave Borison, director of product management for Airgo Networks, a company that pioneered the technology being used as the basis for the new 802.11n standard, is pleased about the Wi-Fi Alliance's decision to certify prestandard products.

"I think it will shepherd the whole industry forward," he said. "Right now, it's chaos. Consumers have no idea if they are buying products that can be upgraded or if they will work with other certified Wi-Fi gear."

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