Editor's Corner

On answers and questions
Sometimes there are answers looking for a question, or solutions in search of a problem. That is the case with 802.11n, at least in the short term. EE Times's Rick Merritt writes that after the drama surrounding the ratification of the standard, with shifting alliances and rival proposals and deadlock votes, the draft 802.11n is here (pre-draft gear has been shipping for a while). Apple and Intel announced their 802.11n plans, and Acer, Toshiba, Asus and Gateway are already using Intel's draft-802.11n modules in their PCs. But who will use these products?

Forward Concepts analyst Will Strauss predicts we won't see the .11n standard take off like .11b and .11g. because those standards allowed many people to access the Internet for the first time. "11n just does not have the same élan," Stauss says. He adds that the 100 Mbps link will not prove very useful for some time, either in public hot spots or on home networks. "Of all the hot spots in the world, perhaps three use .11n. In any case, all the hotspots limit you to a DSL backhaul" of a few Mbps, Strauss adds.

At home 802.11n will face an inhospitable reality too. Yes, the technology was promoted as holding the promise of becoming a vehicle for multiple, high-definition video streams around the digital home. The reality is that these streams originate with a cable or satellite broadcast service and it is unlikely that set-top box vendors for those services will offer native wireless links in the near future. These vendors worry about video transmission quality, and they will wait to make sure that 802.11n delivers on its promise before committing to it. Stauss says it will take two or three years for the home network scenario for .11n to take off.

Still, 802.11n products will sell, even if at a slower growth pace than 802.11g products. Strauss predicts that 15 million 802.11n units will be shipped in 2007, rising to 60 million in 2009, for a four-year compound annual growth rate of more than 150 percent. By comparison, 802.11g products shipped in volumes of more than 110 million units last year, showing a growth rate of more than 420 percent.

There is little doubt that 802.11n, with its MIMO technology, is the WiFi standard of the future. But as they say in Cape Canaveral, the launch sequence of the standard may be adjusted somewhat in accord with the current technology climate. - Ben