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Linksys and NetGear expand their 802.11n line-up: Linksys has added two inexpensive 802.11n home routers for 2.4 GHz connections. The WRT160N at $100 has 10/100 Mbps Ethernet and no external antennas in a new form factor; the $130 WRT310N upgrades to gigabit Ethernet. They also introduced inexpensive dual-band add-on adapters: the WEC600N ($80) for ExpressCard slots, the WUSB600N ($80) for USB, and the WGA600N ($90), an adapter for gaming systems like the Xbox. This is a very nice price drop to add both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz 802.11n to older computers.
NetGear, meanwhile, has expanded its line to include the WNDR3300, a $130 dual-band, 8-antenna router with a 4-port 10/100 Mbps Ethernet switch, and the WNDR3500 ($160), which is 5 GHz only and has a 5-port gigabit Ethernet switch. A $230 kit comprises two 5 GHz 802.11n access point/bridges (WNHDE111, $130 by itself) as a paired set for gaming, streaming video in HD, or other bridging purposes. NetGear also offers up a dual-band USB adapter (WNDA3100, $100). PC Magazine noted there was no ExpressCard or PC Card adapter mentioned at the show.
Chipmaker Marvell will offer 3 spatial streams in new chips, with 450 Mbps raw speed: Each spatial stream in 802.11n can hit 150 Mbps raw symbol rate when combined with 40 MHz channels. The 802.11n spec requires at least two spatial streams—two unique paths through space that reuse frequencies—but three or four are also possible, and it was predicted that 2008 would see a four-spatial stream product by year’s end with a raw 600 Mbps rate.
Marvell fires the first shot over the bow with this announcement, pre-Consumer Electronics Show (CES), tha they will ship a TopDog chipset at 450 Mbps. It won’t ship until second quarter 2008.
Expect more announcements as CES nears or at the show itself.
SMC Networks introduces 2.4 GHz Certified Draft N router, USB 2.0 adapter: The $60 router includes gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi Protected Setup support. The $40 USB adapter looks nicely compact, too. Prices have now dropped to what 802.11g hit in about 2005.
InformationWeek reviews six Draft N routers: Performance is mixed, and only a few standouts, notably the Buffalo Wireless-N Nfiniti (WZRS2-G300N). The reviewer’s methodology is only sketchily disclosed. His review of the AirPort Extreme with 802.11n from Apple doesn’t conform with my testing, but it’s hard to tell what, precisely, he tested in terms of which adapters, which bands, and so forth; he lists distance and speeds. I also suspect he may have hit the LAN-to-WAN speed limitations which affects throughput in NAT-enabled mode. I was able to get 140 Mbps from Draft N to wired LAN on an AirPort Extreme; he didn’t see that speed at all. He also doesn’t mention whether wide (40 MHz) or regular (20 MHz) channels were enabled in 2.4 GHz. Apple restricts its router to 20 MHz only; other manufacturers offer more choice.
Broadcom will offer 802.11n on a single chip with a 50-percent power savings: The announcement, planned for tomorrow, was revealed early by Techworld this afternoon. Broadcom said the chip handles 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, can fit on a PCI Express Mini Card for laptops, routers, and consumer electronics, and will be in products by early 2008. They’ve reduced the cost of manufacture for a module by 40 percent with this new chip, and reduced its footprint by 50 percent, in addition to losing half the power requirements.
The dual-band part is particularly exciting, because it means that 5 GHz could become a standard expectation in adapters, allowing for the far better streaming and data transfer possible in that band.
The Wi-Fi Alliance stuck a stick in the sand, noting 95 products have achieved certified Draft N compliance: The alliance wanted to make sure that, as with the security work in IEEE, long delays didn’t lead to problems in achieving interoperability in the marketplace. Draft N standards mean that devices are supposed to work well together; we’ll see when a big mass of testing happens among early certified devices.
The Register reports that there’s trouble in the IEEE 802.11 Task Group N over CSIRO’s patents: The technology agency of the Australian government owns a patent that they have asserted covers some elements of 802.11n, specifically multipath data transmission—a key part of MIMO technology. The Register writes that an overarching IEEE board is highly concerned about proceeding with 802.11n while CSIRO hasn’t responded to a request from the engineering group to forego lawsuits over intellectual property that might be part of the standard.
CSIRO won a lawsuit and injunction against Buffalo on the matter of this patent some months ago, but that’s the only notable success, and Buffalo has appealed. Other firms have, in turned, preemptively sued CSIRO. Cisco is exempt because as part of an acquisition of an Australian company, they assumed a patent payment responsibility to CSIRO, thus Linksys is in the catbird’s seat.
Update, Sept. 27: Likely not to slow things down, IDG News Service reports. In fact, it’s more likely CSIRO benefits from ensuring that devices are on the market it could collect royalties from.
Linksys is trying to drop the bottom out of the 802.11n market with its new RangePlus products: The WRT100 router and WPC100 PC Card will hit $99 on the street. The router isn’t formally being called 802.11n, nor do they initially have Draft N certification for it, because it’s only got 100 Mbps Ethernet out the back. They’re positioning this as an inexpensive route to upgrade an 802.11g network on 2.4 GHz to 802.11n. The router and PC Card are shipping now; a PCI and USB adapter are to come later in the year.
The router includes Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), an exciting move for those of us who want people to be able to enable security with the least fuss. WPS is an extended set of simple ways to secure a network that build on previous efforts in the industry that were company or chip vendor specific. The RangePlus router also comes with Linksys Easy Link Advisor, which I had a demo of recently, and was favorably impressed. The LELA avoids jargon, and tries to help a user make all the right choices in securing their router’s administration, naming their network, and setting security options. Troubleshooting tools graphically show where there’s a bad link in the router to Internet chain; icons on the router itself echo those.
Another firm joins the Wi-Fi Alliance certified Draft N parade: SMC has achieved certification for its gigabit router and its USB 2.0 adapter. You have to navigate quite a ways down in the SMC support system to find the firmware download. Here’s the link for the WGBR14-N router, and for the WUSB-N dongle.
More 802.11n gear has started to hit the market at affordable prices, meaning backwards compatibility for Mac owners and those with Windows boxes, too: New 802.11n from major brands tends to focus on newer machines, with expensive PC Cards and routers. But what if you want to retrofit an older box, especially a Macintosh? I wrote recently about QuickerTek’s line of 802.11n (2.4 GHz mostly) cards and USB dongles that work with Mac OS X. Other World Computing has now entered the market, too, with Windows compatibility as well.
The OWC line-up includes a PCI/PCI-X (not PCI Express) adapter, a CardBus card, and a USB dongle, $68 each. The adapters are 2.4 GHz only, and support wide (40 MHz) channels. They work with Mac OS X 10.3 and later with the appropriate interfaces (Power Macs for the PCI/PCI-X, PowerBooks for the CardBus card, and any Intel or Mac system that can run 10.3 or later for the USB dongle). The adapters, using technology from Ralink, also work with Windows 2000/XP and later, which includes Vista.
QuckerTek has released several cards and adapters for Macintosh computers for 802.11n, and even 802.11g: The add-on firm has an increasingly large array of 802.11n upgrades in their nQuicky series, prices for which were recently dropped as new items appeared. All of these upgrades in card or dongle form are 2.4 GHz only; their upgrade kits are dual 2.4 GHz/ 5 GHz capable.
Offerings include CardBus ($59) and PCI cards ($99) for PowerPC Macs (10.3.9 or later); a high-powered USB dongle ($150) for all Macs running 10.3.9 or later; and a lower-powered USB dongle called the nNano ($60), which works with 10.3.0 or later. The company also offers upgrade kits and professional mail-in installations of new cards for any Intel Mac mini (no model of which features 802.11n), and the Intel Core Duo models of MacBook, MacBook Pro, and iMac that lacked the 802.11n option.
The firm also has a $50 USB 802.11b/g/n dongle that’s a great help for owners of older Macs that were otherwise limited to 802.11b via the now-unavailable-and-expensive-when-purchased-used AirPort Card.
At first, I thought this was link bait, but it’s thoughtful commentary: The Burton Group’s report on the “end of Ethernet” as reported here by NetworkWorld’s John Cox, argues that expectations of Wi-Fi are set appropriately when 802.11n is involved. Most people don’t see the kind of throughput at home over the Internet that even a busy 802.11n access point would get through a robust office network. Further, young people expect ubiquitous wireless access, and will have even lower expectations for routine computing tasks at network speed. Specialized markets still need fast networks, as do some segments of the enterprise.
Read my review at Macworld.com of the new gigabit Ethernet version of the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station with 802.11n (Extreme N): Apple updated their Extreme N last month with auto-sensing gigabit Ethernet on all four included ports, but that’s not all they goosed. As I suspected, the internal 10/100 Mbps Ethernet support limited the device’s top rate, which I measured at about 90 Mbps whether a single stream from an 802.11n-equipped Mac to another such machine or to a wired LAN Mac.
With the new gigabit Ethernet base station, the maximum Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi speed remains the same, but the Wi-Fi-to-LAN rate shoots up to 140 Mbps when gigabit Ethernet is on the hardwired side. That’s in 5 GHz with wide channels, which is the ideal case. I had poorer rates in 2.4 GHz, but that was because the RF environment where I was testing apparently got worse since February, when I reviewed the first version of the base station.
Speed was improved overall, including in LAN/WLAN to WAN (that’s Wi-Fi over the WAN port or LAN Ethernet over the WAN port) when network address translation (NAT) is enabled from 30 Mbps with Wi-Fi and 60 Mbps with Ethernet to 50 Mbps and 70 Mbps, respectively. If you’re using the base station as an access point, handling NAT elsewhere, then the speed isn’t capped at all.
This is a Wi-Fi base station through and through now, by the way; as noted a few days ago, Apple updated their firmware to a certified Draft N release.
The Cisco Aironet 1250 Series will ship next month: The device is Draft 2.0 (certified Draft N) and it’s the first of its kind for the enterprise market. More will follow, from what I hear.
Apple has released firmware for its AirPort Extreme with N base stations that bring it to certified Draft 2.0: A few days ago, I noticed that Apple’s N base station was listed as being a Wi-Fi Draft N certified product. Apple has now released the firmware that brought them that certification. The 7.2.1 release can be downloaded through the company’s AirPort Utility, which provides automatic updates to their firmware.
The Wi-Fi Alliance lists a few dozen products from major manufacturers that have achieved Draft N certification: The certification program uses the Draft 2.0 that’s the current circulating set of understandings about what 802.11n will comprise. It’s unlikely to change much before completion next year. The Wi-Fi Alliance made some noise in late June when chipmakers had their reference designs certified, but as you can see by following the link, Apple, Belkin, Buffalo, D-Link, Intel (Centrino products), Lenovo, Linksys, NetGear, and SMC all have one or several products that have reached certification compliance, too.