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New Wi-Fi standard hits another bump in the road

First draft of 802.11n standard fails to pass critical vote, which could trip up companies already selling compliant goods.

The draft proposal of the next generation Wi-Fi standard failed to pass a critical vote on Tuesday, emphasizing experts' warnings that consumers and business customers should wait until the final draft is completed before purchasing products that claim to be draft compliant.

The new 802.11n standard, expected to be finalized later this year, will let notebook users connect to wireless access points at much faster speeds than currently available with 802.11g technology.

The Draft 1.0 of the new 802.11n Wi-Fi standard was voted on during a working group meeting Tuesday, but it did not garner the necessary 75 percent approval that it needed to move forward as the final draft. Comments and potential changes will be submitted to the working group and discussed during the IEEE's May meeting.

While it's typical for early drafts to be rejected at this stage in the standards process, the failure is noteworthy since many companies have already begun selling products based on the Draft 1.0 version of the standard.

Experts believe the implementation of the 802.11n specifications will likely change dramatically from the version these vendors are using.

"The standards process is filled with many twists and turns," said Craig Mathias, an analyst with Farpoint Group. "And anyone who thinks they can tell what the final draft looks like is smoking something. The strategy adopted by some vendors to jump the gun on draft compliance doesn't do them any favors."

Farpoint Group recently published a study based on tests of Draft 1.0 products that found performance and interoperability claims advertised by chip vendors didn't live up to expectations.

Vendors like Broadcom, which is already selling Draft 1.0 chips to wireless routing makers Netgear and Linksys, disagreed with the test findings. The company also disagrees with Mathias' assessment that the 802.11n draft will change significantly in its final version, since any major changes require a 75 percent vote by the IEEE members.

"Partner solutions based on our Intensi-fi products will continue to offer multivendor interoperability and compliance with the 802.11n draft standard," said Bill Bunch, director of product marketing for Broadcom.