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Second hat in ring for faster Wi-Fi standard

A second consortium puts in a bid for the faster 802.11n spec. But don't expect a battle over formats.

A second group of companies has submitted a proposal for the next wireless networking standard--this one aiming to quadruple data transfer speeds.

TGn Sync announced on Monday that, like rival consortium WWiSE, it has filed a presentation proposal with the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers 802.11n task group, known as Task Group N (TGn). Friday was the deadline for submissions to the IEEE of suggested features for the next Wi-Fi standard--a deadline the group did not miss.

The 802.11n standard will allow for actual throughput rates of up to 100 megabits per second. In comparison, 802.11g, the current fastest Wi-Fi standard, has optimal rates of 54mbps but average rates of about half that. Other Wi-Fi standards include 802.11b and 802.11a.

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Previous wireless standards have emerged only after a struggle between backers of rival formats. Analysts don't expect a major battle over 802.11n, because the competing specifications are based on similar technology. WWiSE (short for World Wide Spectrum Efficiency) and TGn Sync have both chosen to use multiple input and multiple output (MIMO) technology at the heart of their Wi-Fi specification.

"Unlike with 802.11g, where the proposals were drastically different, these are closer than it seems," said Craig Mathias, an analyst at research firm Farpoint Group. "Assuming the warring parties don't get religious," a standard shouldn't take as long as is expected, he predicted.

The first draft of the specification is slated for the middle of next year, with a completed 802.11n standard planned for late 2006 to early 2007. Mathias said they might be completed a year earlier in the "worse case."

There are differences between the two proposals, which are scheduled to be discussed by the IEEE group at a mid-September meeting in Berlin. For example, the suggested TGn Sync specification builds in ways to reduce the power consumption of phones connected to 802.11n networks.

In addition, TGn Sync's proposal calls for a larger range of wireless spectrum to ensure compatibility for future products. That means that the Wi-Fi technology will be optimized for a greater diversity of products, said Sheng Li, a product line manager at chip developer Atheros Communications and a spokesman for TGn Sync.

"We want to build upon the core technology and add special features to better support specific markets and a broader range of products--cell phones, HDTVs, Blu-ray products and corporate (networking gear)," Li said.

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TGn Sync is also looking for throughput rates around 640 megabits per second, Li said. That compares with top speeds of 540mbps from WWiSE.

With members such as Intel, Sony, Cisco Systems and Nokia, TGn Sync has signed up a greater number of different kinds of companies than WWise, so it is looking beyond the computing industry, Li said.

WWiSE members include Airgo Networks, Bermai, Broadcom, Conexant Systems, STMicroelectronics and Texas Instruments.

Mathias said the rival groups will be motivated by the market to wrap things up, once they get close to a standard.

"Once buyers become aware of a faster standard, long delays will have a negative impact on the market, because buyers will wait--and the industry can't afford that," Mathias said.