802.11n Draft 2.0 is Good Enough for Wi-Fi Alliance...How About You?


Looking for a faster wireless network solution? Better range? Me too. Signal slowdowns stink, especially when you're trying to win a deathmatch or view the latest movie trailer, and having to use crime-scene tape to mark parts of your home as "no wireless signal - keep out!" gets old after awhile.

The forthcoming IEEE 802.11n standard shatters the throughput available with 802.11g (up to 300Mbps is theoretically possible), while maintaining backwards-compatibility with existing 802.11g, 802.11b and (optionally, 802.11a) network hardware. So why haven't we all tossed our old network gear into the trash (or given it to our parents) and gotten on the 802.11n bandwagon?

In a word: forthcoming . Sure, you've been able to buy hardware marked 802.11n, Wireless N, N, etc. since 2006 (and some of it's already gone through our labs), but how nicely will it play with others? Let's face it: in the real world, a typical wireless network is a hodge-podge of different flavors (and speeds) of 802.11 hardware with different chipsets - and they don't always work right, turning your average wireless network into a "notwork."

The Wi-Fi Alliance, the trade group responsible for finding out what 802.11-compatible products play nicely with others and support up-to-date security standards (and thus deserve, and receive, the Wi-Fi Certified sticker) has decided that waiting until late 2008 for the final 802.11n standard is just too long to wait. The Draft 2.0 standard introduced in March 2007 is looking mighty close to the final (although a third draft is expected in early 2008), and so June 25, 2007 saw the Wi-Fi certification labs start taking a hard look at 802.11n hardware.

Hardware that connects without glitches with other 802.11n devices, includes WPA2 security, and works with 802.11g and 802.11b legacy hardware (i.e. - the stuff you have right now) will get a thumbs-up and, more importantly, a Wi-Fi Draft N certification sticker. Most 802.11n hardware on the horizon supports only the 2.4GHz band also used by 802.11g and 802.11b, and will get a sticker like this if it passes:

The biggest speed boosts coming from 802.11n result, in part, from using the faster (and far less crowded) 5GHz frequency pioneered by 802.11a. 802.11n hardware that works with both 2.4 and 5GHz flavors of 802.11 gets a sticker like this if it passes:

Thankfully, you don't need to wait to buy Wi-Fi Certified 802.11n Draft 2.0 hardware. A lot of existing hardware from the usual suspects (Linksys, Netgear, D-Link, and so on) has already passed testing. See for yourself . If you're unhappy with the speed of your 802.11g network (and if you're gaming or sucking down huge downloads, you are!), it's time to make the move to N. Thanks to Wi-Fi Certification, you can avoid problems connecting to your favorite hotspot for a latte with a side of surfing and hosting a hodge-podge of adapters, integrated devices, digital cameras and hand-held games and get faster performance - today. 802.11n Draft 2.0 hardware will also work with the final standard.

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