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SMC Networks introduces 2.4 GHz Certified Draft N router, USB 2.0 adapter: The $60 router includes gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi Protected Setup support. The $40 USB adapter looks nicely compact, too. Prices have now dropped to what 802.11g hit in about 2005.
Another firm joins the Wi-Fi Alliance certified Draft N parade: SMC has achieved certification for its gigabit router and its USB 2.0 adapter. You have to navigate quite a ways down in the SMC support system to find the firmware download. Here’s the link for the WGBR14-N router, and for the WUSB-N dongle.
More 802.11n gear has started to hit the market at affordable prices, meaning backwards compatibility for Mac owners and those with Windows boxes, too: New 802.11n from major brands tends to focus on newer machines, with expensive PC Cards and routers. But what if you want to retrofit an older box, especially a Macintosh? I wrote recently about QuickerTek’s line of 802.11n (2.4 GHz mostly) cards and USB dongles that work with Mac OS X. Other World Computing has now entered the market, too, with Windows compatibility as well.
The OWC line-up includes a PCI/PCI-X (not PCI Express) adapter, a CardBus card, and a USB dongle, $68 each. The adapters are 2.4 GHz only, and support wide (40 MHz) channels. They work with Mac OS X 10.3 and later with the appropriate interfaces (Power Macs for the PCI/PCI-X, PowerBooks for the CardBus card, and any Intel or Mac system that can run 10.3 or later for the USB dongle). The adapters, using technology from Ralink, also work with Windows 2000/XP and later, which includes Vista.
QuckerTek has released several cards and adapters for Macintosh computers for 802.11n, and even 802.11g: The add-on firm has an increasingly large array of 802.11n upgrades in their nQuicky series, prices for which were recently dropped as new items appeared. All of these upgrades in card or dongle form are 2.4 GHz only; their upgrade kits are dual 2.4 GHz/ 5 GHz capable.
Offerings include CardBus ($59) and PCI cards ($99) for PowerPC Macs (10.3.9 or later); a high-powered USB dongle ($150) for all Macs running 10.3.9 or later; and a lower-powered USB dongle called the nNano ($60), which works with 10.3.0 or later. The company also offers upgrade kits and professional mail-in installations of new cards for any Intel Mac mini (no model of which features 802.11n), and the Intel Core Duo models of MacBook, MacBook Pro, and iMac that lacked the 802.11n option.
The firm also has a $50 USB 802.11b/g/n dongle that’s a great help for owners of older Macs that were otherwise limited to 802.11b via the now-unavailable-and-expensive-when-purchased-used AirPort Card.
Read my review at Macworld.com of the new gigabit Ethernet version of the Apple AirPort Extreme Base Station with 802.11n (Extreme N): Apple updated their Extreme N last month with auto-sensing gigabit Ethernet on all four included ports, but that’s not all they goosed. As I suspected, the internal 10/100 Mbps Ethernet support limited the device’s top rate, which I measured at about 90 Mbps whether a single stream from an 802.11n-equipped Mac to another such machine or to a wired LAN Mac.
With the new gigabit Ethernet base station, the maximum Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi speed remains the same, but the Wi-Fi-to-LAN rate shoots up to 140 Mbps when gigabit Ethernet is on the hardwired side. That’s in 5 GHz with wide channels, which is the ideal case. I had poorer rates in 2.4 GHz, but that was because the RF environment where I was testing apparently got worse since February, when I reviewed the first version of the base station.
Speed was improved overall, including in LAN/WLAN to WAN (that’s Wi-Fi over the WAN port or LAN Ethernet over the WAN port) when network address translation (NAT) is enabled from 30 Mbps with Wi-Fi and 60 Mbps with Ethernet to 50 Mbps and 70 Mbps, respectively. If you’re using the base station as an access point, handling NAT elsewhere, then the speed isn’t capped at all.
This is a Wi-Fi base station through and through now, by the way; as noted a few days ago, Apple updated their firmware to a certified Draft N release.
D-Link released Wi-Fi Alliance certification for the D-Link Xtreme N(TM) Router and Notebook Adapter: It’s not mentioned whether new firmware is needed for existing versions of this equipment to bring it up to the certified standard. Tim Higgins tested the D-Link equipment with its uncertified Draft 2.0 firmware, and found it lacking.
Very positive review of the revised Draft N flagship from Linksys: The 350N is a single-band, 2.4 GHz, Draft N router with gigabit Ethernet and a USB jack for shared network storage. It runs just above $150.
D-Link updates its Draft N product line to Draft 2.0 of the specification: This is the first announced firmware release of many expected for the existing draft 802.11n or Draft N product lines from companies like Apple, Buffalo, Linksys, and many others. Draft 2.0 is currently being used as the basis of an interim certification for 802.11n by the Wi-Fi Alliance that should see certified products by June.
The $99 WZR2-G300N replaces the previous model: It’s a Draft N router with a four-port 10/100 Mbps Ethernet switch. Buffalo says the unit supports HD video streaming, but doesn’t mention precisely how it supports it—which equipment is needed from them or others. The router ships in May.
Tim Higgins takes apart the Buffalo Wireless-N Nfiniti Dual Band with gigabit Ethernet over at SmallNetBuilder: As Higgins notes in his review, even though dual-band Draft N routers are on the market, Buffalo’s is the first with two distinct radio mechanisms that allow simultaneous use of 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. This version isn’t yet compliant with Draft 1.10 approved in January, nor Draft 2.0, approved yesterday. The mechanisms for co-existence with older 802.11b/g networks in 2.4 GHz just isn’t there yet, and a lot of other small problems, like a lack of automatic downshifting from 40 MHz to 20 MHz, cause problems with range.
The gigabit Ethernet even seems to be a problem, with a bottleneck in LAN to WAN routing: Higgins saw just 200 Mbps of throughput in testing over Ethernet to Ethernet. When I tested the AirPort Extreme Base Station, I was able to achieve just 60 Mbps on their 100 Mbps Ethernet LAN-to-WAN or WAN-to-LAN bridge. Intra-LAN was 94 Mbps with Ethernet.
The unit costs $250 and it’s the only thing on the market to have its distinct set of features. But Higgins’s takeaway is that it’s not time to buy it or any Draft N gear because he wants Draft 1.10/2.0 to be implemented in firmware before making that determination. Based on this review, that’s a reasonable stance because the weak areas in the device seem to have already be worked out in the draft, and a more mature version of the firmware could solve other problems.
Asus rolls out Intel’s Draft N technology into several models: The laptop maker will include the Draft N adapter in the S6Fm, V1Jp, VX2, W2P, and W6Fp models.
Let me alert you all that I have, in fact, bought some Draft N gear: While I advise those that don’t quite need the speed and range of Draft N to hold off a wee bit longer for firmware upgrades and price drops, I have to test this stuff on a regular basis. I’ve purchased an AirPort Extreme Base Station (2007), and just bought a Dell laptop with Vista preinstalled and the Intel Draft N adapter. I’ll let you know what I think of the former; I reviewed the AirPort Extreme for Macworld a couple weeks ago.
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.
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.
Azimuth Systems releases MIMO emulator to help test new devices: A robust testing suite can help manufacturers tweak designs before they reach production. Azimuth has added MIMO hardware and capabilities to its product suite so that engineers can examine interference and propagation issues in environments that emulate real-world use.
Extremely clear, detailed article from AP on the non-standards mess around MIMO: Matthew Fordahl’s superb piece examines the nomenclature problem, the process of standards’ development, certification issues, and consumer confusion.
Airgo chips will power embedded MIMO in Samsung laptop: This is a first—a manufacturer building a MIMO adapter right into a laptop. But it’s an interesting option because, for competitive reasons, they can’t price the laptop above similar laptops unless MIMO is a selling point. Thus it obviates some of the concerns with separately purchasing a MIMO adapter due to cost or future compatibility.
Very few internal laptop adapters can be updated anyway, so you can’t argue convincingly that having an early MIMO device that’s backwards compatible and offers greater range even without a MIMO gateway is a downside for a purchaser.
I review NetGear’s RangeMax MIMO device at Mobile Pipeline: I found its range extraordinary and worth the price. It sits in a middle ground in cost and feature claims between the Airgo-based Linksys, Belkin, and Buffalo gear and plain old 802.11g.
It calls itself MIMO, and I can’t really say that it meets the spec in that MIMO requires spatial multiplexing. Or so the inventors of MIMO—founders of Airgo—would say. (Nanotech used to mean little machines but now means anything small, too.)
Tim Higgins of Tom’s Networking offers his exhaustive look at the NetGear RangeMax Wireless Router: This device uses Atheros’s Super G technology combined with Video54’s multiple antenna approach. The folks at Airgo say that Video54’s MIMO isn’t MIMO because it doesn’t support spatial multiplexing (multiple signals taking different paths over the same frequencies). Video54 says multiple antennas are multiple antennas; they’re using a phase-array approach per packet in which each packet can be sent through a different antenna combination. The device has a street price of just $118, far below its “true MIMO” competitors.
Higgins thinks that the device delivers on some but not all of its claims, and that because four different technologies are involved (three from Atheros then Video54 on top) he has some issues with the simplicity of it, too. He doesn’t know which technologies need to be turned on, off, or changed in order to achieve the best results with that combination. That’s a key advantage for the True MIMO line of products using Airgo chips: it’s essentially one technology that wraps around all these ideas while delivering better results.
MIMO is hitting the market, but what’s the future of the products shipping now?: This piece I wrote for Mobile Pipeline provides an overview of MIMO technology and some of the issues that will face buyers of technology today—will that gateway they bought work tomorrow? Well, sure. But you won’t be able to use the fastest versions of “true MIMO” as backwards compatible versions of future MIMO, almost certainly.
Remarkably, NewsFactor Network has a similar story with a bit of a different tack: that author focuses on spatial multiplexing and its ability to increase the effective carrying capacity of a chunk of spectrum. Atheros’s two radio, four antenna system transmits the same data over both radios; Airgo’s MIMO sends different data over each radio sending signals across different paths. Atheros increases range; Airgo increases data rate and range.