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On the main Wi-Fi Networking News site today, I explain why you shouldn’t buy Draft N gear: The Draft N devices lack a promise of forward compatibility (they’re likely to be upgradable, but there’s no guarantee from manufacturers), cost too much, and will require frequent firmware upgrades. Why buy now? See my editorial for more on the issue.
The company joins the early parade of equipment makers: Linksys didn’t provide estimates of net throughput, but is clearly offering the 300 Mbps (raw) version of 802.11n in its draft form, with limited throughput on the new router due to a 10/100 Mbps Ethernet switch which can’t carry the maximum possible data. The WRT300N will run $150; the complementary PC Card is $120. While the company said products are shipping today via Bestbuy.com, TG Daily notes that there’s a 1-2 week delay noted on Best Buy’s site.
In the off-the-wall Ruckus Room, in which the company speaks in something approaching a real voice, they maintain that 802.11n buys you bandwidth not QoS: And they’re right, of course. They have a real nice business in providing hardware and algorithms that make IPTV (that’s video over IP) work reliably using multiple antennas and beamforming. 802.11n adds a standardized method of having multiple radios split data into simultaneous but unique streams that follow different reflective paths at the same time, which is called spatial multiplexing. It’s a way of reusing the same spectrum by sorting out signals passing through the same physical space.
Ruckus notes that this might improve bandwidth but it doesn’t do anything for ensuring that streaming video works without a hiccup. They don’t mention 802.11e, which offers prioritization of streaming video packets, in this context, but 802.11e won’t necessarily work as expected within 802.11n. Why? Because 802.11e provides a way of tagging packets to ensure that some get more precedence over others, but it doesn’t ensure that the optimal methods are used to move data so that it arrives with the least amount of lost packets or least retransmission (depending on protocol).
With video, it’s not just important that packets arrive with priority over others, but that there are no gaps in arrival longer than the buffered interval stored on the receiving device if you want to have clean streaming and avoid artifacts. Ruckus claims their technology can overlay 802.11n to provide this. It’s definitely the next big wave, with many companies talking about 802.11n as having the bandwidth for multiple simultaneous high-definition video streams.
Of course, there’s still the other IP (intellectual property) part of this equation. While specific paired devices, such as those used in Windows Media Edition systems, can move video content around a network, there’s no generic accepted approach for taking high-def off the air or off future high-def DVDs (BluRay or HD-DVD) and streaming them to other devices. That’s an application-layer problem that involves lawyers, but it’s got to be solved if the vision of HD zooming around a home is to be achieved beyond specialized home electronics.
Buffalo vies with NetGear over bragging rights: Buffalo announced today that its three Broadcom-based draft 802.11n networking devices are the first to reach retailers with its AirStation Nfini. The company is selling a gateway, PC Card, and PCI Card designed to operate at speeds of up to 100 Mbps. While the standard supports a raw rate of about 300 Mbps—faster using some proprietary Broadcom tricks—the device has 10/100 Mpbs Ethernet and internally can’t support faster rates over the airlink.
In an interview earlier in the week, Morikazu Sano, Buffalo’s senior vice president of global marketing, said that the cost of adding gigabit Ethernet was still too high for a general market product of this sort, and that as costs dropped the faster switch speed would be added. “Instead of being first to announce the product, we wanted to be the first to ship the product,” said Sano. The router is $179; the adapters, $129 each.
Sano was blunter than most manufacturers about “futureproofing”: whether these Draft N devices would be guaranteed by Buffalo to be upgradable via firmware or equipment swap to the final 802.11n standard. Sano said, “We cannot promise that,” and that “I don’t think it’s right to make that announcement.” Buffalo expects firmware upgradability, but believes that its chip supplier, Broadcom, will have to commit first to that guarantee before Buffalo as a manufacturer can make the same claim.
Early adopters are expected to snap up the Nfiniti because of its ability to deliver somewhere north of four times the throughput of plain 802.11g and about two to three times the throughput of enhanced 802.11g using frame bursting and other techniques. Sano suggested that gamers, graphic designers, and video/audio mixers would probably be among their first customers. With more powerful laptops, it’s more likely that a user would want to maintain their untethered status while still having high-speed network access.
Meanwhile, NetGear said today that they not only shipped their gigabit Draft N gear (also using Broadcom chips) to retailers days ago, but their 10/100 Mbps line and related devices are now in the supply channel.
For the record, I can’t find any etailer, including both Buffalo and NetGear’s own online stores, that list any of this gear as available for immediate shipment. Only Buy.com lists NetGear’s gigabit kit and that with a 1-2 week delay for receipt.
Marvell today noted that D-Link’s Draft N products, scheduled to ship later this month, will use Marvell chips. Marvell calls its chip line TopDog.
Added to the flurry of N-like news, Buffalo is shipping its fastest gateways: Buffalo’s gear uses 3rd-generation Airgo chips which are ostensibly not directly upgradable to 802.11n compatibility, although they may offer some interoperability that will boost them above 802.11g speeds when used with 802.11n gear. Airgo plans a 4th generation chipset for 802.11n compliance.
The gateway has an estimated street price of $150 and the notebook adapter, $100. The gateway uses a 10/100 Mbps switch, which will underperform the 100 Mbps-plus throughput that Airgo’s chips have been shown to be capable of on the wireless side.
NetGear announced this morning it has product moving to retail channels with draft 802.11n chips: The NetGear RangeMax Next product line is shipping to retailers, and available soon. NetGear gets bragging rights (as Belkin did with Pre-N) for the first products to market with draft 802.11n built in. The draft standard (see previous item) may require firmware changes or more drastic changes depending on whom you ask.
NetGear claims up to 300 Mbps performance with their line of products, which should mean 150 Mbps to 200 Mpbs of actual throughput. They’ll offer both gigabit switched and 10/100 Mbps switched gateways and CardBus cards. They also have an DSL modem, PCI Card, and plain access point. These products use chipsets from Marvell.
The gigabit kit (card and gateway) lists for $349, staggering, but the only option for that kind of wireless performance; the gateway and CardBus adapter are $249 and $129 separately. The 10/100 Mbps switched gateway lists for $179, the DSL device is $249, the regular CardBus adapter is $129 (oddly priced identically with the gigabit card), the PCI Card is $129, and the access point $249.
D-Link may have the first draft 802.11n products on the market later this month: The draft chipsets incorporate what’s settled in the featureset as it moves its way through the IEEE task group process. Airgo claims there’s a lot of necessary work to be done; other chipmakers say minor tweaks addressable in firmware are all that’s needed. D-Link will offer a router ($160), PCI Card ($120), and CardBus ($100).
The devices use Atheros chips and promise 100 Mbps throughput. The article notes that 10/100 Mbps Ethernet is included, which will actually reduce performance on the high end, as 802.11n should outperform Ethernet, which runs at 80 Mbps subtracting overhead.
TG Daily reports that other announcements on 802.11n are expected at the Interop trade show next month.
Update: Scratch that! NetGear said this morning they are shipping their own 802.11n gear today.