The final version of the 802.11n standard won't be ratified until next year, but the first flurry of products based on a draft of the new fast Wi-Fi standard started to appear at CTIA this week.
D-Link on Wednesday announced plans to ship 802.11n products later this month, and NetGear trumped that announcement by revealing its 802.11n routers and switches are already shipping. But these products support only the draft version of the 802.11n standard and haven't received certification from the Wi-Fi Alliance that they will work with competing 802.11n products or with older 802.11a/b/g products.
When 802.11g was introduced, chip companies like Broadcom, Atheros and Marvell raced to introduce Wi-Fi chips based on the draft standard in order to carve out an early position at the faster speeds provided by the new standard. The IEEE typically approves a draft version of the technology used to create a standard before ratifying the final version. This means that there can be changes in the technology in the time between the approval of the draft and the certification process following the final standard, which can cause problems if a notebook's Wi-Fi chip doesn't talk to a router's chip based on the draft standard.
Some early versions of 802.11g chips encountered compatibility problems, but vendors believe this time around that any changes to the draft standard can be solved with a software update once the final standard is approved in early 2007.
The 802.11n standard uses MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) technology that use multiple signal antennas to improve the range and speed of Wi-Fi networks. Vendors are claiming that speeds could hit up to 300Mbps, but those claims usually reflect laboratory conditions that are next to impossible to duplicate in the real world.