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The Global and Mail in Toronto writes about consumer confusion with Draft N: I’m quoted as a skeptic, which I am, of the sense in releasing devices that conform to a non-existent stamp and for which there is no third-party rigorous certification process for interoperability. The danger to consumers is noted in this paragraph from the story:
“A full-page Future Shop ad in newspapers recently declared: “Wireless-N. It’s a revolution in Networking.” The ad offered a special price on a Linksys wireless N router and laptop adapter, but made no mention of the format being non-standard. Future Shop and Linksys representatives did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment.”
Of course, Linksys is using a brand name, Wireless-N, which has a specific set of promises associated with it. I’m a little surprised to see them using Wireless-N, because their final product will also be called Wireless-N. And I would think that they would want to make the proviso in the ad—especially in a country like Canada that has more controls on advertising—that the Wireless-N sold today won’t necessarily be fully upgradable to the Wireless-N sold in a few months.
I’ve been getting pushback from several companies about my complaint, noted in this article, that chipmakers and manufacturers won’t guarantee a hardware upgrade for the final version of 802.11n, if such an upgrade is needed. These firms believe I’m besmirching their good name—that I’m calling them, in effect, either liars or weasels.
Let me be clear that I’m not. Any company I speak to about this will tell me bluntly and on the record that they aren’t guaranteeing hardware upgrades. They all truly expect to work this out in firmware or possibly drivers plus firmware. They’re in part betting on this because it will be a clean transition to Final N if that’s the case.
Rather, I’m stating that these companies are committing brand suicide by tying themselves to products that might be dead ends. Sure, they’ll still work with any compatible equipment at slower speeds and with like equipment at the fastest speeds. But consumers aren’t going to read an ad such as Future Shop’s cited in this article or any ad by any of their competitors or the actual packaging and make the fine distinction that the companies are willing to state in public for quotation.
That’s not misleading. It’s not even weasely. However, it does provide the opportunity for potentially millions of consumers to lose trust in the promise of Wi-Fi (even though that brand isn’t on the boxes!) and in the individual firms’ reliability if the worst case happens and hardware upgrades are required for full interoperability.
Dell will offer Broadcom-based Draft N adapter as built-to-order notebook option: The “Dell Wireless 1500 draft-802.11n dual-band wireless card” will use the Intesi-fi technology that Broadcom has developed in advance of an industry-approved standard for 802.11n. Broadcom isn’t alone, but I’m stunned that Dell will sign onto this at this stage. The upgrade costs $59. (Acer will ship a Q3 laptop with Draft N built in, The Register reports.)
The press release from Broadcom states, “Broadcom Intensi-fi technology complies with the current IEEE 802.11n draft specification and is available in a variety of draft-802.11n routers, including those from Linksys, NETGEAR and Buffalo.” There is no way to comply with a draft specification of this sort. It’s an early draft, likely to change, and there’s no one outside of the firms trying to push this early Draft N gear who believes it’s a good idea to write one’s name in water.
The Broadcom press release also states, “Intensi-fi solutions are also interoperable with draft-802.11n technology from other chipmakers.” Yeah, right. In certain testing which belies most of the magazine lab tests of the technology. What’s the brand promise behind this statement? What happens if a competitors updates their firmware, and interoperability fails? This is why the Wi-Fi mark works—stable standards, independent lab testing, and the possibility of failing tests—and this kind of standards-by-marketing committee fails.
This is making me slightly ill as I see companies rush to push something out that nobody needs. Regular MIMO on the market provides the distance boost that’s really at the crux. The rest of this Draft N technology could patiently wait until the standard is done.
I reiterate that no manufacturer I’m aware of is willing to promise that equipment they release today will be fully upgradable and interoperable with the final, release 802.11n specification even if they have to swap out hardware. Without that promise in place, they’re selling what could turn into expensive paperweights that offer minimal functional improvements at excessive cost compared to what final, shipping, interoperable, certified products will provide in probably no more than six months.
Wait, I say, wait.
A Dell spokesperson provided a clear statement that I believe is frank and fair to my question as to whether Dell would offer upgrades if hardware were required. Dell said,
“Dell felt there was compelling value for our customers in the current draft standard, in terms of range and throughput, to justify releasing a product based on the draft.
“Although the Dell Wireless 1500 is fully compliant to the current draft and several elements of the draft will be incorporated into the final standard, Dell cannot guarantee upgradeability to the final standard. Regardless of final upgradeability, the Dell Wireless 1500 card will continue to perform at throughput rates and ranges superior to 802.11g, when paired with Draft 802.11n routers with the Intensi-fi technology, and provide customers with the ability for multiple users to use high-bandwidth wireless applications throughout the home.
“Also note, the Dell Wireless 1500 Draft 802.11n card is backwards compatible with 802.11 a/b/g wireless standards, so users will always be able to access these wireless networks no and in the future.”
This is well stated. There is nothing misleading or incorrect in this response. However, I don’t believe that any Dell customer should purchase what is essentially a beta or pre-release item that cannot be guaranteed upgradability. But I appreciate that Dell isn’t overhyping the product.