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« 802.11n Moves Forward | Main | Draft N Upgrades in Firmware? »

January 26, 2007

Almost Time To Buy Draft N

By Glenn Fleishman

Some months ago, I wrote a provocative essay entitled Don’t Buy Draft N: I’m ready to provide two updates. First, it’s almost time to buy. Second, if you bought Draft N devices, you’re probably not up a creek.

On the first score, the adoption of a draft by the IEEE 802.11 Task Group N that will almost certainly move with relatively minor changes to ratification means that we will shortly hit a point of real interoperability, consistent performance, and stable firmware. The Wi-Fi Alliance has committed to certifying devices by second quarter as Draft N compliant, and I would argue it’s worth waiting until March to see what new magazine lab reviews bring, how costs drop in that period, and what the timeframe for interoperability testing works out to be.

I would certainly wait until the next generation of products hits the market, which will happen probably next month. In some cases, these won’t be substantially different. In others, they could be entirely new. Airgo, now part of Qualcomm, will offer its first Draft N chips in February, based on statements made last month. That competition will certainly produce price pressure.

I also think that gigabit Ethernet is worth waiting for if you believe you’ll need it. Only a few early devices include GigE and they have a price premium. It should be a basic part of Draft N gateways, and I expect that will slowly become de rigeur. For home networks, this is absolutely less critical unless you routinely perform network backups or move large files around. Even then, you could couple a cheap ($50) GigE switch with a Draft N router if the price premium remains above $50.

On the second point, because Task Group N adopted a draft that reportedly doesn’t break the silicon that’s already out there—the big reported change in drafts is better behavior around legacy networks—I would expect the vast majority of Draft N devices sold to date will be upgradable via driver and firmware improvements.

I told the many companies and chipmakers over the last several months who complained about my Don’t Buy Draft N stance that, given sufficient evidence, I would drop my objections when it was clear that the time had come. It seems that time has come, although I’d like to see firmware releases for old devices and new hardware based on the new draft to have the best compatibility when someone purchases a device.

But the worst-case scenario appears to have been averted.

Posted by Glennf at January 26, 2007 8:18 PM

Categories: Draft N, Future

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