Wi-Fi testing finds weak links

Research indicates that hundreds of wireless products on the market do not meet Wi-Fi standards, leading to potential problems with interoperability and performance.

At least one in every four Wi-Fi products examined by the Wi-Fi Alliance has failed its certification test--a sign that many pieces of wireless equipment on the market are incapable of working as well as users might expect.

The Wi-Fi Alliance announced last week that it has now certified more than 1,000 products since its testing program began in March 2000.

Products that sport the Alliance's seal of approval are certified to work with each other and provide the performance expected from the 802.11a, b or g standards. This means that users can buy certified 802.11x routers, access points and cards knowing that they should all be compatible.

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But while a great many Wi-Fi products have been approved by the Alliance, several hundred did not pass its tests.

"Based on testing of more than 1,000 products over several IEEE 802.11 standards, products that are prepared for Wi-Fi certification testing fail 25 (percent) to 30 percent of the time--or more depending on the technology being tested," said Wi-Fi Alliance managing director Frank Hanzlik.

"Products that do not go through the rigorous testing preparation process have an even higher failure rate. Without Wi-Fi certification, these product failures would have been experienced by the technology consumer," Hanzlik added.

A product that fails Wi-Fi certification can still be launched, though, and a manufacturer could still label its wireless products as "802.11b compatible" even if they only work with its own range of equipment and not with those from another company.

The Wi-Fi Alliance says that certification is becoming increasingly important as the wireless-networking market grows and matures.

"New features and the growing number of additional chipsets make Wi-Fi certification more important than ever to consumers and enterprise IT managers," said Hanzlik.

A list of products certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance can be seen at its Web site.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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