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SMC Networks will ship Draft N devices later this year: The company will release what I continue to suggest are misguided attempts to go ahead of a reasonable finished standard for 802.11n. These Draft N devices aren’t futureproofed with guaranteed hardware swapout if needed. With a timetable of spring for Draft 2.0 certified devices, or something equivalent, I’m a little unimpressed about seeing further pre-certified-draft equipment hit hte market.
I am stunned by this statement from SMC’s product manager for this line: “SMC’s customers want speed, but they need the reliability that comes from standards-based products. IT managers can’t support technology ‘pockets’ of non-standard equipment. Our draft N products are based on the 802.11n v1.0 draft standard, so retain interoperability that will enable our users to retain more flexibility and get better functionality from their LAN and broadband connections, all the while knowing that underlying security is in place.”
This is complete and utter bull crappy. There is no method in place to assure interoperability of devices based on Draft 1.0. Chipmakers have some plans, but this claim goes beyond wishful thinking into trying to pretend a standard exists where one does. The use of the word standard is, in fact, specifically disclaimed by the IEEE, which is the group developing the standard. Draft 1.0 is incomplete and subject to significant revision.
Don’t buy the claims unless they’re backed with promises: If SMC wants to claim interoperability, they need to promise hardware swapouts if interoperability can’t be achieved. I don’t see that promise.
One computer maker steps over the line dividing hype from commitment with Draft N products: ASUS said in a press release this morning that purchasers of their Broadcon Intensi-Fi Draft N-based WL-500W gateway and WL-100W adapter are guaranteed firmware or hardware upgrades to the ratified version of 802.11n. The units must be purchased before Dec. 31, 2006, to qualify. ASUS is guaranteeing that for three months following the ratification, they will provide whatever is necessary to assure full N compatibility. If hardware is required, purchasers will have that period of time to return their equipment at their expense; ASUS will pay shipping back to the consumer.
This is so not a sucker bet, but a great move on ASUS’s part. As I’ve written many times in the past, there is no guarantee that current generations of Draft N chips will be firmware upgradable, but there’s also no assumption that they will not be upgradable. Because ASUS is offering this guarantee only for this calendar year, and putting the upgrade period at probably March 2008, the expected ratification, its likely that very few purchasers will, in fact, request hardware upgrades even if hardware upgrades are required. In the meantime, Broadcom and ASUS will certainly be posting a stream of firmware upgrades as those are needed.
The next logical step, of course, is that other computer makers and equipment makers offer the same deal, like Dell and Linksys. There’s a multi-million-dollar risk behind this, of course, but a guarantee would almost certainly accelerate current purchases of equipment. The marketing and sales folks at many firms should be huddled over spreadsheets today, wondering how to launch a “Draft N—Guaranteed!” campaign that will push more current revenue without booking huge liabilities.