Receive new posts as email.
This site operates as an independent editorial operation. Advertising, sponsorships, and other non-editorial materials represent the opinions and messages of their respective origins, and not of the site operator or JiWire, Inc.
Entire site and all contents except otherwise noted © Copyright 2001-2006 by Glenn Fleishman. Some images ©2006 Jupiterimages Corporation. All rights reserved. Please contact us for reprint rights. Linking is, of course, free and encouraged.
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.
Revised timeline from the IEEE: The final, final, final version now expected to be approved April 2009. This doesn’t really affect anything, given that the drafts are moving along. But it’s a far cry from Sept. 2008, which was the previous target. It looks like Nov. 2007 is the target for the next major revision. Little significant is now expected to change. It’s just a long formal process ahead.
False alarm! It’s bad graphic design. It’s Sept. 2008 for final approval and Oct. 2008 for publication. You have to read along the bottom.
There is joy in IEEE-land tonight: The 75-percent supermajority required for the larger 802.11 group to approve the Task Group N Draft 2.0 was reached in a single round of letter (mailed) ballots. 325 voters in the 802.11 Working Group were eligible to vote; 306 did; 231 approved the ballot (83.4 percent). It’s now all clean-up of that draft, rather than any chance of additional substantive changes. Because Draft N is in silicon, there’s little likelihood of unforeseen technical problems now, too.
The earlier vote that approved Draft 1.10 to move forward into Draft 2 was 100 to 0 with a few abstentions, but that was a vote of Task Group N by itself.
Matthew Gast, a voting member, reports that there are 3,163 comments to resolve, including duplicates, with a bit more than half being technical remarks. Matthew notes the draft hasn’t per se passed, but as the voting goes into more and more formal realms, the odds of anything changing become lower and lower.
Task Group N in the IEEE 802.11 Working Group voted unanimously to move forward: As I noted over at Wi-Fi Networking News last week, the vote was 100-0 with 5 abstentions to move forward with what’s currently numbered Draft 1.10, and which will eventually be approved as 802.11n. The next step is for tidying up in the draft for it to be sent off as Draft 2.0 to a group of 400 IEEE voters. The vote’s results will be announced in March at the next full meeting, at which point, the expectation is that that draft will have passed and additional, minor work will continue into Draft 3.0, and then final ratification.
The big news? October 2008 is now the slated date for full ratification. But it’s likely there will be no significant changes between now and then. Changes would clearly have to be in the firmware-upgradable arena.
The Wi-Fi Alliance said today it would offer a two-phase plan to keep 802.11n’s innovation moving along: With the next potential draft approval of the faster wireless data standard from engineering standards group IEEE’s Task Group N looking like it won’t appear until March 2007, the Wi-Fi Alliance has chosen to step in to stabilize the market. The first phase of certification will confirm compliance to what they expect will be Draft 2.0 in March, the next letter ballot in which Task Group N voters agree to an extensive set of changes to Draft 1.0. The compliance will be coupled with interoperability testing, so that devices labeled with their phase 1 branding—yet to be determined—will work together at the right speeds.
The second phase will be tied to a ratified standard, which may come by spring 2008. Ratification usually takes up to six months after final technical details are decided on and approved within a task group, so the standard will likely be gelled by fall 2007. Wi-Fi Alliance managing director Frank Hanzlik said in an interview today that should the March 2007 meeting not produce another draft, the alliance would assemble the closest possible set of agreed-on ideas to produce their certification standard. (The news was scheduled to be released tomorrow morning; News.com broke the embargo this evening.)
Products that comply with phase 1 certification for draft 802.11n could be on the market—through firmware upgrades or new hardware releases—by June 2007, but it’s likely that devices that start to hit the market by early 2007 will more and more closely conform with what will be certified. “We actually are doing a lot of formal interoperability testing within the alliance with pre-standard products,” said Hanzlik, and this ongoing work should reduce the time between the draft’s approval and certification approval. (The alliance has opened more worldwide testing labs in recent months, too, which should distribute its certification work for faster completion.)
Phase 1 products aren’t guaranteed to be forward-compatible with phase 2 products. “The forward-compatibility part is certainly too hard to call at this point; it’s not anything that the alliance is committing to,” Hanzlik said. However, they are stressing that compatibility among the phase 1 and 2 products would be highly stressed.
Phase 1 products will almost certainly have none of the optional elements for 802.11n, such as larger antenna arrays that produce higher throughputs. Some of these optional elements remain points of discussion, and will be less settled until further drafts are developed. Another major issue outstanding is the manner by which 802.11n devices will interact with legacy adapters and legacy networks, whether on the same Wi-Fi network, same Wi-Fi channel, or on adjacent Wi-Fi channels. That is expected to be resolved for the next letter-ballotted draft, which should be Draft 2.0.
This intermediate approach to 802.11n certification echoes the earlier interim security measure, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), that the alliance put into place when the work on 802.11i lingered far longer than the market and manufacturers would tolerate, with the failure of Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) as a reliable link encryption method. WPA was available a year before 802.11i’s final ratification, and stabilized the security concerns of the market. The later WPA2, which included the strong AES encryption method, entered the industry with relative seamlessness.
Of course, WPA had more to do with retrofitting a security model to work on older devices without leaving newer devices with less protection, and was a good-enough security system; WPA2 almost serves a different market, in which government-grade encryption algorithms are required and fast handoff for authentication, mobile devices—like VoWLAN handsets—is critical.
With 802.11n, the standard has to work on the lowliest to most sophisticated device, and there’s a lot of hardwiring in silicon that can’t be fixed later, so the standard has to be right when devices are released. That’s been one of my primary objections to Draft N gear.
I have consistently said that you should not buy Draft N gear because there are significant advantages for most users. Buying MIMO gateways makes a lot of sense if you want better 802.11g speeds over greater areas. That technology is now relatively mature, relatively compatible, and relatively cheap. Draft N devices are quite expensive (Atheros aims to fix that by year’s end), don’t seem to deliver range and speed in testing (see this latest PC World showdown), and have no guarantee of full upgradability when the final 802.11n standard is delivered. (Intel said today they’d include Draft N support in their Santa Rosa platform in the first half of 2007, but Intel is on the board of the Wi-Fi Alliance, and thus knew this certification was coming when they made this statement.)
This process set up by the Wi-Fi Alliance answers my concerns.
First, with 802.11n’s ratification pushed back nearly a year from the expectation just a few months ago, there’s now a reason to bring today’s capabilities into today’s equipment. When ratification was just a few months away, having an entire generation of equipment that would be potentially incapable of forward compatibility or upgrade seemed ridiculous. Now, it’s a reasonable market choice given a 12-to-18-month lifespan for the right kind of user. (The equipment will obviously continue to work after the ratification, too, and have its own value as it will retain interoperability and other benefits that current Draft N devices can’t guarantee.)
Second, the Wi-Fi Alliance is waiting for Draft 2.0 or its equivalent. This allows a host of compromises to be made in the year between Draft 1.0 and 2.0, and technical problems to be solved. There should be an ocean of difference from Draft 1.0 to 2.0 in terms of basic problems being solved. Today’s Draft N devices promise compliance to a draft that will be superceded, and offer no hardware upgrade promise when and if that happens if firmware upgrades fail to suffice.
Third, the alliance will offer a brand that I confirmed with Hanzlik will be clearly differentiated in phase 1 and 2. This won’t offer consumers or businesses any implicit promise about forward compatibility. This reduces confusion in the marketplace and provides a clear message to equipment buyers that they are buying gear that may be superceded later, but has value now.
Fourth, the interoperability and conformance testing by the Wi-Fi Alliance will smooth out the rough spots in using devices from different manufacturers together. Some early equipment plays very poorly with its friends (similar devices from other makers) and neighbors (nearby networks). The alliance’s process has worked in the past.
So, I can’t say right now, go out and buy Phase One gear, because it has no name and doesn’t exist. But I will predict with some degree of certainty that devices that start shipping in late winter 2007 will likely offer enough carrots for those who need higher performance or greater area networks to start thinking about purchase, and what’s for sale by June 2007 (and certified) will be good investments in the next generation of Wi-Fi.
News.com reports that the final ratified version of 802.11n probably will hit in 2008: The ratification means that the full IEEE has accepted a final version of the standard, and will publish it in that form. The work is typically done as long as six months or longer before ratification, so this doesn’t mean that a “final” version will take until 2008, but rather that the absolute final version will take that long.
With a new draft now slated for January 2007 incorporating or responding to the thousands of technical changes noted for Draft 1.0, News.com reports that it’s extremely likely that the next draft will not allow a firmware upgrade for Draft N devices currently on the market. (Also, what’s the generation numbering here? If you ship Draft N in May 2006, and it’s incompatible with Draft N in January 2007, as it may be, do you call this Draft N2? Drafter N?)
I should reiterate that there’s nothing certain in life, and it’s possible that chipmakers have been exceptionally clever and flexible, and will be able to produce better and better 802.11n equipment while still enabling firmware or other backwards compatible with their earliest-shipped chips.
At this point, we’ll have to wait about six months to find out.
Draft 2.0 will likely not be voted on until January: This puts a crimp in the earlier predictions that Draft 1.0 might be adopted (it wasn’t), and that Draft 2.0 of the next-generation wireless data spec could be ready to go by, say, September. Nope. There were 12,000 comments presented, and even after removing duplicates and what sounds like irritating editorial comments, they’re still slogging through the issues. (Atheros’s CTO says that three people submitted comments on the draft ballot for every blank line in the document; there must be an explanation for that, because those sorts of changes are easy to de-duplicate and cope with.)
There’s still no resolution on how to bind two 20 MHz channels into one 40 MHz channel, something that the chipmakers have been pretending is non-issue from a silicon perspective for some time. That is, that whatever approach is taken, they’ll be able to push out firmware updates that will make their Draft N chips still work.
Meanwhile, we will have another six months, at least, of Draft N gear—and even a second generation of Draft N gear based on the same non-existent standard—before there’s a chance for a real stab at what the final standard will be.
Don’t buy Draft N gear, folks. Buy MIMO.
Airgo is trying to promote the notion that the Task Group N vote yesterday was important: It wasn’t. Airgo is reasonably expressing the strong doubts that many equipment testers and pundits (yours included) have voiced about interoperability and interference between the current draft of what will become 802.11n, and the Draft 1.0 currently under consideration. Draft 1.0 was not accepted by a 75 percent supermajority for passing on to the next stages on the road to ratification yesterday—fewer than 50 percent voted that way—but it’s hardly a surprise. I don’t know how many notes were returned based on the circulated draft, but there was no way, according to my sources, that Draft 1.0 would have moved on to the final stages.
This is pretty normal. Almost all IEEE standards have many drafts, and that’s a good thing. It’s part of the process of accommodating different technical viewpoints and producing something that should be able to be implemented in software, firmware, and hardware. The vote yesterday simply affirms that work is ongoing.
Based on what I have heard, I would not expect a draft to be accepted until the September meeting at earliest. It should be two full cycles (four months) from that acceptance to ratification, if that quickly. But it means that an essentially close-to-final version should be settled by summer, a final version by fall, at which point the Wi-Fi Alliance might start building a certification process for several months after that to ensure interoperability and standards compliance.
Airgo has not yet started producing 802.11n-like chips, while three of its major competitors have. I and others thing the competitors have made a huge mistake, as have their manufacturing partners for reasons cited all over this blog, including no guaranteed upgradability to the final 802.11n standard. However, Airgo has every motivation in the world to trumpet any failure to advance. I don’t believe that they were philosophically opposed to early Draft N chips; I think it’s a business decision to reduce costs and possibly an execution decision based on their ability to get chips to market. Regardless of the true causes of their position, they have the moral high ground, as does Belkin, which has chosen to not ship until the draft is further along.
Belkin conservatively won’t ship gear until June 15: I say, bravo! They’re waiting until the IEEE 802.11n standard has gelled to a state they are comfortable giving to consumers. Since their competitors shipping gear already won’t commit to a full hardware replacement for full final 802.11n compatibility, Belkin has the moral high ground. They’re offering a router ($150), PCI card ($120), and PC Card ($100).
A game is being played with announcements from Task Group N: Yes, there is unity. Of a sort. In an interview last week, Atheros’s chief technology officer said the Draft 1.0 accepted by Task Group (which will eventually produce the 802.11n next-generation standard to move Wi-Fi forward) was essentially complete with small details to work out. He said there was a very small risk that major changes would be required. Bill Bunch, director of product marketing at Broadcom, confirmed that view in an interview Wednesday morning.
Read the rest of this article at Wi-Fi Neworking News; it’s important enough that I’ve posted it on the general site.
The IEEE approved draft 1.0 of 802.11n yesterday: The IEEE voted in January to accept a proposal—largely that of the Enhanced Wireless Consortium with some changes—as a pre-1.0 draft. That near-unanimous vote was the first step in finalizing 802.11n, which has been under discussion for years and which appeared to be heading to a deadlock. The EWC proposal was quietly built by four chipmakers—Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, and Marvell—and then sold back into a joint proposal group that was trying to harmonize competing efforts.
That work paid off given the quick approval of Draft 1.0. This first fully numbered draft had only very minor technical changes from the proposal that was accepted as the 0.1 draft in January, according to Atheros’s chief technology officer Bill McFarland. In an interview this morning, McFarland said that changes were primarily to conform to IEEE editorial style, including adding detailed appendixes and some clarifying text. “The draft was evaluated by the group as being complete, technically very sound, and in shape where it could potentially be the exact final standard,” McFarland said. That doesn’t mean it will be adopted as is—that’s very unlikely—but it has the form and detail of a final draft.
McFarland said that the proposal will now be sent out for balloting among 802.11 Working Group members for a 40-day period. Ballots will vote up or down on accepting this draft, and will bring back comments and requests for changes. In the May meeting, those changes will be discussed, and some will be adopted and others not. If all goes well, a re-ballot will happen following a similar course. In July, a final draft could win the day, which would then go on to a group of experts at a higher IEEE level who typically approve drafts—by the time they’ve reached this point, most technical and harmonization issues across 802 (networks) and 802.11 (wireless networks) have been settled.
Meanwhile, manufacturers will probably start firing up the silicon ovens. McFarland said that Atheros was already in sampling, and it was very encouraging that “In getting to this 1.0 draft very few technical changes needed to be made.” There is a very low risk, he said, of significant changes being made before a final draft is accepted that would require changes in silicon.
Inertia will set in, too, because so many chipmakers already are sampling or showing 802.11n designs to their customers. “As time goes on, all the major silicon providers have begun work on it so they prefer more and more there not be changes,” McFarland said.
Atheros is sampling draft 802.11n chips now. “We expect that you’ll be able to see products on the store shelves certainly by the middle of this year implementing this 1.0 draft,” McFarland said. Changes to the spec would be handled through firmware upgrades.
802.11n finally moves forward: The IEEE task group on high-throughput wireless local area networking has confirmed the joint proposal group draft which itself came out of the Enhanced Wireless Consortium. Now 802.11n will move forward relatively rapidly to ratification, even though that formal process of finalizing details could take until 2007. That won’t delay shipping products at this point.
Broadcom meanwhile announced that what it’s dubbed its Intensi-fi chips are now available in sampling and incorporated in reference designs for manufacturers and support all mandatory draft 802.11n specifications. The chips will also support any changes in the spec through ratification via software updates. The chips will support over 300 Mbps of throughput.
The vote was 184 to 0 with four absentions, which is a quite remarkable outcome over years of jockeying, vitriol, and drama—and a fine contrast to the disbanding vote today in 15.3a for UWB.
The Joint Proposal (JP) team in the IEEE 802.11n high-throughput wireless task group has accepted the Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC) proposal: This is the penultimate step to the EWC proposal, originally developed outside the main standards process by the four overall largest chipmakers, and which eventually included most parties in 802.11n. Task Group N will produce a standard that uses multiple antennas and a host of other strategies to produce at least 100 Mbps of raw throughput, but more likely 200 Mbps. Net throughput, or real data transferred, will be much higher than the current 50% of raw data passed across.
The JP at the task group was composed of the members of two previously at-loggerheads proposals led (in the least nuanced way I can put this) by Intel on the one side and Airgo, leading MIMO chipmaker, on the other. The EWC proposal had many points of similarity with work in the JP. The acceptance of the EWC proposal by the JP sets the stage for supermajority voting of 75 percent that will allow the JP to become the draft upon which final ratification of the standard is based.
The vote passed the JP group 40 to 0, with two members not casting ballots. The JP includes all major players in the industry.
After last week’s CES, I predicted that the Enhanced Wireless Consortium had the votes to win: The EWC, founded by four major chipmakers, has swept most of the industry and most IEEE 802.11n voting members into its camp. The EWC draft will be introduced (I believe by way of a joint proposal group that was already in progress) next week in Hawaii, this article reports. With several chipmakers already having EWC-based prototypes for testing or in sampling, EWC seems a fait accompli.
This article is the first I’ve seen that makes the Airgo side of the equation seem less unbalanced. The company obviously fought hard for some of its most critical ideas to be included, and I see less unhappiness about the result in statements by their CEO. I had no doubt that Airgo can adapt and produce chips that conform to whatever proposal is adopted, but these statements lead me to think we will see no schism and little delay in moving toward industry-standard high-throughput devices.
(Updated) At CES, Atheros and Broadcom showed working products based on early 802.11n chips: The demonstrations were off the show floor in private suites. These chips—along with Marvell, which had a chip to show but no working product—use the Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC) proposal as the basis of the silicon.
Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, and Marvell formed this private, originally secret group to cut through a roadblock in the 802.11n task group, which has a goal of higher throughput for future Wi-Fi standards. The EWC was criticized for working outside the IEEE process, but their proposal now has dozens of members of the 802.11n task group signed on.
Marvell’s chip isn’t in sampling yet—meaning it’s not available for manufacturers to start building products around—but a representative at the booth said it would be out any day. I was not invited to Atheros and Broadcom’s demonstrations—if I had been, I would have been under non-disclosure, too—but I expect they are in a close to similar state. The companies could produce the chips in quantities in a few months, meaning that 802.11n-like consumer products could be out as early as May or June.
The sense I got from being on the floor at CES and talking to a number of Wi-Fi equipment makes is that the EWC proposal will easily capture the majority necessary to move to a vote to accept a draft, and that it then has the 75-percent supermajority votes, too. Airgo is the only major wireless data chipmaker that hasn’t signed on to the EWC.
I’m never quite sure how the IEEE establishes rounds of votes, but if both the votes are held next week, the EWC version will win the day and move forward. The IEEE’s Web site puts finalization as early 2007 based on certain assumption.
Battlin’ Task Group N reports! Unstrung reports that the Enhanced Wireless Consortium proposal will get a vote in January but TechNewsWorld writes that it’s a battle of the joint proposal and the EWC proposal: It’s a little confusing, but clarity is coming. Task Group N was mired down in a stalemate between the WWiSE and TGn Sync proposals. A compromise was being attempted in a joint proposal group developed by the two groups. Meanwhile, Intel, Atheros, Broadcom, and Marvell—four leading Wi-Fi chipmakers—developed the EWC proposal outside of the joint group and then got 23 other companies to sign up for it. Airgo, the leading MIMO chipmaker, stayed out, as did Motorola and Nokia.
Here’s why we’re seeing confusion. Unstrung says that Airgo expects to get a passing vote on what must be the joint proposal in January with drafts starting in the March meeting. (This would mean 50 percent of voters agree in January, but 75 percent must accept a draft as a starting point. That’s where things can easily get hung up.)
TechNewsWorld, on the other hand, cites other sources that cast the issue into a fight between the EWC and joint proposals.
Who wins? Probably Airgo, in that they maintain their lead in producing products that are garnering the best reviews for range and speed. Who loses? Consumers by not seeing costs come down and a delay in interoperability, and smaller firms that are losing out on business before there’s interoperability that allows them to become niche players and build a market on top of commodity products.
Everyone but Airgo has dogpiled on the Enhanced Wireless Consortium: The new group comprised of Intel, Atheros, Broadcom, and 24 other manufacturers and chipmakers has a merged proposal for Task Group N. Since this has become a mainstream issue, we’re covering it over at Wi-Fi Networking News. Read more there.
A schismatic group of companies secretly working outside the IEEE 802.11n group’s process may submit a new proposal Monday: News.com reports that Intel, Broadcom, Marvell, and Atheros have a new plan. All but Broadcom are also part of TGn Sync; Broadcom was part of the WWiSE proposal. The future of 802.11n has huge market consequences, and there’s more than a whiff of collusion when four giant semiconductor makers engage outside a standards process.
Still, by presenting their proposal, they may take potential prosecution off the table. But it’s unclear whether if their proposal isn’t accepted that they go back to the table or walk off and start a trade group as happened with 802.15.3a and UWB (ultrawideband). Intel leads the WiMedia Alliance (formerly the WiMedia Alliance and the Multi-Band OFDM Alliance).
In what sounds like a terrible, terrible idea, Intel, Atheros, Broadcom, and Marvell are putting together another Task Group N proposal: While the IEEE standards process was working to align the interests of disparate industries interesting in the next-generation wireless data networking specification that will supercede (and include) 802.11g, four chipmakers may derail the process.
EE Times reports that Intel, Atheros, Broadcom, and Marvell, which have been in two competing camps (Broadcom in one; the other three in the other) for months have met outside the standards group. The two remaining 802.11n proposals in play—TGn Sync and WWiSE—are in the process of merging for a single proposal that would take the day.
This effort by the four chipmakers may arouse anti-trust issues since it was outside a public standards process. Other members of both 802.11n proposal groups are apparently peeved, too, because they didn’t know this was going on.
It could throw Task Group N entirely off its stride as the politics and legalities burble through. Only one of the four chipmakers would comment in the article, and their response isn’t placating at all. The reason for standards processes is to create a playing field that benefits consumers and manufacturers alike by allowing technology to interoperate on a fundamental level. This group bodes ill for a nearer-term ratification of 802.11n. We may now be looking at mid-2007 instead of late 2006.
Ah, comity for the future of Wi-Fi: The two leading contenders with no clear supermajority for the 802.11n specification have agreed to merge, Tony Smith of The Register writes. The two proposals will be merged, and then submitted at the September IEEE meeting, with a final version available in November at which time one would expect the 75-percent vote threshold to succeed.
From accepting a draft to ratification could take a year or longer, but we’re likely to see versions in silicon based on the September compromise to judge by previous wireless specification timetables.
The proposals had some minor but important technical differences, some of which relate to what will be mandatory and what optional in the final version. By allowing some mandatory elements in one proposal to be optional in the merged version, this should provide everyone the wiggle room they want. There are some deeper technical differences about signal performance that only engineers can work out the details of.
The two proposals for 802.11n promise speeds of at least 200 Mbps with a higher ration of throughput to symbol rate (not about 50 percent or less as with 802.11g, but more like 75 percent or higher)—and rates that could reach 600 Mbps with the most antennas and greatest potential bandwidth.
The TGn Sync proposal doesn’t achieve supermajority for 802.11n: Although the proposal won more than 50 percent of the vote at the last IEEE 802.11n task group meeting, it failed to achieve the supermajority needed to move ahead this time around. That means that the floor is back open to reconsider other proposals, with WWiSE being the only reasonable contender. It’s likely that compromise will now be achieved because while there are a few basic differences in encoding that must be resolving, much of the concern is over optional versus mandatory modes and configurations.