New 802.11n group offers alternative standard

I am in retreat (or, as they say in the army, I am embarking on a strategic advance to the rear). Four weeks ago, when WWise and TGN Sync said they would bury the hatchet and advance a joint proposal for the 802.11n standard, I declared "La guerre est finie." Last week, against the backdrop of a steady mix of statements about how progress was being made or how the process has stalled, I wrote that this was beginning to resemble the end of the fourth movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. I should have relied on Yogi Berra: "It ain't over 'till it's over."

A new group has just been formed, boasting 26 industry leaders intent on exploiting the 802.11n impasse in a gambit which would make Machiavelli proud. Officially, the new group--Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC)--says it hopes to accelerate the pace of 802.11n ratification and will support PHY with a theoretical speed of up to 600 Mbps and actual throughput of up to 100 Mbps, while also being interoperable with 802.11a/b/g (for the real story behind EWC, see "Background" below).

Here are some of the highlights of the EWC 802.11n implementation:

  • Mixed-mode interoperability with 802.11a/b/g networks
  • Theoretical PHY transmission rate of up to 600 Mbps to minimize battery drain by reducing send and receive times
  • Efficient MAC with frame aggregation will bring actual throughput closer to the raw PHY rate, providing end-users with at least 100 Mbps application-level bandwidth
  • Use of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz unlicensed bands
  • 20 MHz and 40 MHz channel support uses more of the wireless spectrum, depending on availability
  • Spatial multiplexing modes support simultaneous transmission using one to four antennas, thus increasing the robustness of wireless connections
  • Enhanced range through multiple antennas and advanced coding, offering wider coverage area with consistent wireless speeds.

ABI Research's Philip Solis said that the EWC move meant that companies could start building EWC-compliant WiFi chipsets and products immediately, with EWC-compliant products probably reaching the market by the fourth quarter of 2006. "Whether or not the EWC specification will form the basis of an eventual IEEE 802.11 protocol remains to be seen, but if so, that would mean availability of 'pre-802.11n' systems sooner than might have been expected," he said.

I agree with Solis' conclusion: "The stalemate between TGn Sync and WWiSE may be transformed into a stalemate between the Joint Proposal and EWC groups. Companies have everything to gain or lose as far as market share with 802.11n--there is a lot on the line."

For more on EWC's move:
- see Peter Judge's detailed Techworld report
- read Maury Wright's very good EDN discussion
- check out the EWC Web site
- visit the Web sites of WWiseTGN Sync

BACKGROUND: EWC's members are not only impatient with the pace of the 802.11 negotiations. In fact, the impasse offers them a golden opportunity. Here is how: A few weeks ago, with inconclusive negotiations over the 802.11n standard dragging on, the Gang of Four--Intel, Broadcom, Atheros, and Marvell--moved to offer an alternative to aspects of the 802.11n proposal being debated by the 802.11n task group. Conspicuously excluded from the group was Airgo, whose MIMO technology is at the heart of the proposals by both WWise and TGN Sync.

The move by the four companies was, in Phil Solis' words, an "offensive gambit" aimed to keep Airgo's march toward market dominance in check. Yes, Airgo was quicker than Intel and Broadcom to develop spatial multiplexing and bring it to market; and, yes, both coalitions in the 802.11n battle have MIMO as the core of their proposals. But since these two groups cannot agree on a joint proposal, why not offer a third, different standard proposal which would, if adopted, force Airgo to redesign its own technology, in the process slowing it down and providing other 802.11n players with more of a level playing field? This is Machiavellianism at its best.

Original EWC members include: Airoha, Apple, Atheros, Azimuth, Broadcom, Buffalo, Cisco, Conexant, D-Link, Intel, Lenovo, Linksys, LitePoint, Marvell, Metalink, Netgear, Ralink, Realtek, Sanyo, Sony, Symbol Technologies, Toshiba, USRobotics, WildPackets, Winbond and ZyDas.

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