September 21, 2009, 12:09 PM — If your reaction to last week's ratification of the 802.11n standard for Wi-Fi at 100Mbps and beyond was a loud yawn or a "what took them so long," you'd certainly have some justification.
After all, it took the IEEE seven grueling years to finalize the standard. And so-called "pre-standard" products have been shipping since 2007. In fact, wireless vendors report that the majority of their current shipments are pre-standard 802.11n gear.
But let's not gloss over what a stunning accomplishment this really is. Or what it will mean down the road in terms of wireless technology becoming the dominant network technology in enterprise shops.
First, a tip of the hat to the hundreds of participants from across the wireless industry and beyond who hammered away for a good five years on the nitty-gritty details of the standard. (Read a timeline of 802.11n's milestones.)
A lot of the time it wasn't pretty. But the result is a total re-write of the original 1997 wireless standard that puts in place the underlying technologies that will carry the WLAN industry and its growing base of hundreds of millions of users for the foreseeable future.
While there are other radio technologies under development, nothing will replace 802.11n anytime soon. But, in time 802.11n will replace 802.11b and g, while still providing backwards compatibility with these earlier standards.
802.11n delivers improved throughput, range, and reliability across a broad range of configuration possibilities, and thus cost and price points.
Implementations can be basic -- one radio on the transmitting side and one on the receiving side offering up to 150Mbps, as opposed to the 54Mbps of 802.11g. Or more complex -- the commonly deployed 2x2 and 2x3 configurations can deliver up to 300Mbps, and a 4x4 implementation offers up to 600Mbps (all of these being peak numbers).
Prices of 802.11n products have fallen dramatically, as is always to be expected where VLSI chip manufacturing is concerned, to the point where 802.11n products today cost about the same as chips based on 802.11g just two years ago.
Built-in 802.11n adapters are now featured in most new notebooks and even in many netbooks, and every enterprise-class vendor of Wi-Fi systems is offering 802.11n products today.
It's the Wi-Fi, stupid