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Latest wireless networking standard nears

The 802.11g specification is one step closer to becoming a standard after an industry group announced its approval of the latest version of the spec.

The latest wireless networking specification is one step closer to becoming a standard after an industry group announced Friday the approval of the specification's most recent version.

Known as 802.11g, the specification increases the bandwidth of wireless networks from 11Mbps, under the 802.11b standard, to 54Mbps. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers said Friday that a consensus had been reached to establish the latest version of the 802.11g specification, version 6.1, as the standard to be used in the industry.

The specification must go through two more hoops before it becomes a standard, which should happen in June. The standard is expected to be published in July.

"The point was to give the industry a progress update on (802.11g) and to establish a schedule for when the standard would be finished," said Matt Shoemake, an IEEE representative. "There are still technical changes going on between draft versions."

By establishing a standard, companies that participate in creating it are basically given a set of rules for developing their products to ensure that products from many different companies will be able to interoperate with one another.

The market for 802.11b-based products has benefited from the process of establishing an industry standard, with the number of products tripling in 2002 from the year before. While shipments jumped, average selling prices dropped significantly. Many expect 802.11g-based products to become the premium product in the wireless networking market.

The group that helped to develop the 802.11g specification consists of well over 100 computer, networking and software companies, as well as those from consultant organizations and academic institutions.

There has been some concern in the wireless networking industry over the interoperability of currently available 802.11g-based products. The products are based on the draft versions of the 802.11g specification and some have claimed that the draft versions have interoperability problems with 802.11b-based products. The 802.11 specification is meant to be backward-compatible with the 802.11b standard.

Industry groups, such as the IEEE and the Wi-Fi Alliance, had declined to comment on any interoperability issues surrounding the 802.11g products in the past, but alluded to the concerns Friday.

"The IEEE P802.11g draft had technical changes made to it at the January 2003 session, and further changes are expected starting in March 2003 based on comments received from the sponsor organization of IEEE 802.11," Brian Mathews, IEEE 802.11 publicity chair, said in a statement. He added, "The only sure way to guarantee compliance and avoid potential interoperability problems is to wait for final ratification of 802.11g, which is highly likely in June 2003."

The 802.11g specification was updated to version 6.1 in January and the IEEE is expected to update the draft to version 7.0 in March.

Shoemake added that the changes between versions 5.0 and 6.1 of the 802.11g specification were significant enough that they were "noninteroperable."