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The Associated Press notes that Draft N isn’t fully baked: I’m quoted in this brief AP technology item in which an unnamed reader—representative of many, to be sure—asks whether it’s time to upgrade to the faster Wi-Fi gear they see in stores. I and others say it’s not quite time, given that new chips are due in early 2007, and a certified standard should be baked into hardware by mid-2007. In the article, I’m quoted noting that new products will be in the store by March 2007, and that’s accurate.
While Draft 2.0 won’t appear until January and be confirmed until March by the IEEE Task Group N, and the Wi-Fi Alliance won’t have certification in place until perhaps the end of second quarter 2007, it’s very likely that manufacturers and chipmakers will have devices on the market no later than March that will, in fact, be firmware upgradable to the final Draft 2.0. In fact, I believe that my entire objection to Draft N devices based on 1.0 will disappear when these newer chips ship, as between the major draft revision’s ostensible acceptance and the certification program by the Wi-Fi Alliance, buyers will have near certainty that no hardware changes will be needed on those devices.
If anyone is on the fence, now is the time to wait!
The company says it’s the first to provide a chipset that handles 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Draft N: That sounds right. While I’m opposed to pre-release Draft 1.0 N devices, it’s still nice to see sophisticated chips hit the market. The closer to the Draft 2.0 release, the more likely a Draft N chipset will be upgradable to the certified version, too. Metalink says their chips include entire alphabets of standards, including 802.11e (quality of service for voice, streaming media) and 802.11h (international use of 5 GHz band). They say their chips can handle three simultaneous 20 Mbps HDTV streams at 60 feet (60 Mbps in aggregate), covering a home.
Selling an 802.11n router without gigabit Ethernet is like delivering a five-inch pizza in a 20-inch box: Most early Draft N equipment uses 10/100 Mbps Ethernet, which can deliver something like 80 Mbps of net throughput over its 100 Mbps flavor. 802.11n will easily peak over 100 Mbps in its cheapest, default mode—although it may run much slower on average based on other networks operating in the vicinity. The most expensive 802.11n devices may deliver well over 300 Mbps of throughput in peak mode, and possibly as high as 450 Mbps if all the stars are aligned.
That’s why it’s great to see companies finally shipping Draft N gear with GigE built in. Most desktop computers beyond the very basic consumer models have gigabit networking, and all professional laptops do, too. Switches cost a few dollars a port for consumer and SOHO models.
Now I’m opposed to current Draft 1.0-based devices because manufacturers are not guaranteeing a no-cost hardware upgrade if their gear can’t be upgraded. However, it’s still a good trend to see the GigE coming out.
NetGear had the first gigabit Ethernet Draft N device out in April, which listed for about $250, but now runs for $140 at Amazon.com. Broadcom announced today they’ve added GigE to their Intensi-fi Draft N platform. Buffalo and Linksys are using the technology: Buffalo in its upcoming WZR-G300N; Linksys in its Wireless-N Gigabit Router ($180 from Amazon, but not yet released).
Airgo’s acquisition by Qualcomm was coupled with news they had Draft 2.0 compliance: As I wrote over on the main Wi-Fi Networking News site, this is enormous marketing department spin because there’s no such thing as Draft 2.0 from the Task Group N that’s working on 802.11n. What Airgo has told me via email and has told a variety of trade reporters since then is that—as Tim Higgins puts it after talking to Airgo’s founder—they “put everything that could possibly be in Draft 2.0 into the AGN400 chipset.”
I still find that a far cry from saying “full support for Draft 2.0,” when that draft doesn’t exist. The could have said, “We believe we have flexible silicon that can support everything that will be in Draft 2.0, given that the process underway doesn’t allow for any substantive changes beyond what’s known now; and, we built a backwards compatible mode that will support everything that other manufacturers put into their chips for Draft 1.0 compatibility.”
Now that’s a cool statement. It’s verifiable. It’s true. I could stand behind that. But not “full support for Draft 2.0.” Those are empty marketing words that have raised the ire of the entire trade press. Mainstream media hasn’t even mentioned the claim.