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Linksys is trying to drop the bottom out of the 802.11n market with its new RangePlus products: The WRT100 router and WPC100 PC Card will hit $99 on the street. The router isn’t formally being called 802.11n, nor do they initially have Draft N certification for it, because it’s only got 100 Mbps Ethernet out the back. They’re positioning this as an inexpensive route to upgrade an 802.11g network on 2.4 GHz to 802.11n. The router and PC Card are shipping now; a PCI and USB adapter are to come later in the year.
The router includes Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), an exciting move for those of us who want people to be able to enable security with the least fuss. WPS is an extended set of simple ways to secure a network that build on previous efforts in the industry that were company or chip vendor specific. The RangePlus router also comes with Linksys Easy Link Advisor, which I had a demo of recently, and was favorably impressed. The LELA avoids jargon, and tries to help a user make all the right choices in securing their router’s administration, naming their network, and setting security options. Troubleshooting tools graphically show where there’s a bad link in the router to Internet chain; icons on the router itself echo those.
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.
Apple has released firmware for its AirPort Extreme with N base stations that bring it to certified Draft 2.0: A few days ago, I noticed that Apple’s N base station was listed as being a Wi-Fi Draft N certified product. Apple has now released the firmware that brought them that certification. The 7.2.1 release can be downloaded through the company’s AirPort Utility, which provides automatic updates to their firmware.
Draft 2.0 products are starting to flow: SMC is shipping three new 802.11n devices with Draft 2.0 support, the most recent agreed-upon set of principles on which next-generation Wi-Fi is being built The SMC Barricade N Wireless 4-port Gigabit Broadband Router is $175 (list) includes WPS and a stateful packet inspection firewall. It also supports printer sharing via a USB 2.0 port. SMB also released an access point, the EZ Connect N Draft 802.11n Wireless Access Point/Ethernet Client—naming consultant, stat!—which can be used to extend a network without needing all the routing functions, or can act as a client adapter for Ethernet-only equipment or devices with older Wi-Fi standards embedded. It’s $115. Finally, their USB 2.0 adapter ($63) brings Draft 2.0 to any Windows system with a USB port.
In this article in Macworld, I explain how to mesh an 802.11n and an older network for best advantage: My advice is that you can take an existing 802.11g gateway, like the older AirPort Extreme Base Station, and connect it to the new 802.11n AirPort Extreme Base Station set to 5 GHz to obtain the best speeds from older and newer devices.
David Pogue reviews four 802.11n routers, and finds only Apple’s meets most of the promise, Belkin second: Pogue was unable to achieve the highest speeds promised by these routers, except with the Apple AirPort Extreme. That may be because all these early routers are single band (2.4 GHz) except Apple’s. They may also all be much more susceptible to interface or back-off from adjacent networks, although Pogue isolated a lot of variables. As other reviewers have found, range is much better than bandwidth, but Pogue wasn’t able to get more than 49 Mbps from any device but Apple’s. I have only thoroughly tested Apple’s router, and achieved 70 to 80 Mbps in unoccupied 2.4 GHz channels.
Pogue had kind words for Belkin’s Draft N gateway, due to its superb installation instructions and labeling and its clear troubleshooting icons that are built into the front of the gateway. If there’s a problem, an icon representing the part of the network that’s faulty flashes an amber outline; network components that are okay are outlined in blue.
His conclusion? “If you’re in the market for new wireless gear and can’t wait a few more months for the “n” committee to finish the spec, buy the polished, upgradeable gear from Apple or Belkin.” I’m not waiting for the spec to be finished, but rather anticipating a wave of firmware upgrades that should improve performance in the 2.4 GHz band based on the latest draft from the 802.11n committee. (Pogue says that Linksys didn’t promise to him that the device he tested can be upgraded; the other three manufacturers did.)
While the draft was approved in March, it may be weeks yet before firmware appears for shipping devices that accounts for changes, especially in how 802.11n and previous 802.11 specs work together on the same network and in adjacent networks. The Wi-Fi Alliance will also announced certified devices sometime this quarter for Draft N, which would mean new firmware as a result of “plugfests” and other lab testing to achieve that seal of interoperability.
US Robotics says Draft N isn’t fully baked: They’re right, of course, and alongside Belkin are in the minority of consumer Wi-Fi gateway makers to take that position. US Robotics will wait until at least fourth quarter to release products. “Products developed with pre-standards technology, or even rushed to market with standards based implementations, put customers at risk of incompatibility,” they said.
Have they been reading this blog—or just being sensible? You decide.
Belkin conservatively won’t ship gear until June 15: I say, bravo! They’re waiting until the IEEE 802.11n standard has gelled to a state they are comfortable giving to consumers. Since their competitors shipping gear already won’t commit to a full hardware replacement for full final 802.11n compatibility, Belkin has the moral high ground. They’re offering a router ($150), PCI card ($120), and PC Card ($100).
The company joins the early parade of equipment makers: Linksys didn’t provide estimates of net throughput, but is clearly offering the 300 Mbps (raw) version of 802.11n in its draft form, with limited throughput on the new router due to a 10/100 Mbps Ethernet switch which can’t carry the maximum possible data. The WRT300N will run $150; the complementary PC Card is $120. While the company said products are shipping today via Bestbuy.com, TG Daily notes that there’s a 1-2 week delay noted on Best Buy’s site.
Buffalo vies with NetGear over bragging rights: Buffalo announced today that its three Broadcom-based draft 802.11n networking devices are the first to reach retailers with its AirStation Nfini. The company is selling a gateway, PC Card, and PCI Card designed to operate at speeds of up to 100 Mbps. While the standard supports a raw rate of about 300 Mbps—faster using some proprietary Broadcom tricks—the device has 10/100 Mpbs Ethernet and internally can’t support faster rates over the airlink.
In an interview earlier in the week, Morikazu Sano, Buffalo’s senior vice president of global marketing, said that the cost of adding gigabit Ethernet was still too high for a general market product of this sort, and that as costs dropped the faster switch speed would be added. “Instead of being first to announce the product, we wanted to be the first to ship the product,” said Sano. The router is $179; the adapters, $129 each.
Sano was blunter than most manufacturers about “futureproofing”: whether these Draft N devices would be guaranteed by Buffalo to be upgradable via firmware or equipment swap to the final 802.11n standard. Sano said, “We cannot promise that,” and that “I don’t think it’s right to make that announcement.” Buffalo expects firmware upgradability, but believes that its chip supplier, Broadcom, will have to commit first to that guarantee before Buffalo as a manufacturer can make the same claim.
Early adopters are expected to snap up the Nfiniti because of its ability to deliver somewhere north of four times the throughput of plain 802.11g and about two to three times the throughput of enhanced 802.11g using frame bursting and other techniques. Sano suggested that gamers, graphic designers, and video/audio mixers would probably be among their first customers. With more powerful laptops, it’s more likely that a user would want to maintain their untethered status while still having high-speed network access.
Meanwhile, NetGear said today that they not only shipped their gigabit Draft N gear (also using Broadcom chips) to retailers days ago, but their 10/100 Mbps line and related devices are now in the supply channel.
For the record, I can’t find any etailer, including both Buffalo and NetGear’s own online stores, that list any of this gear as available for immediate shipment. Only Buy.com lists NetGear’s gigabit kit and that with a 1-2 week delay for receipt.
Marvell today noted that D-Link’s Draft N products, scheduled to ship later this month, will use Marvell chips. Marvell calls its chip line TopDog.
Added to the flurry of N-like news, Buffalo is shipping its fastest gateways: Buffalo’s gear uses 3rd-generation Airgo chips which are ostensibly not directly upgradable to 802.11n compatibility, although they may offer some interoperability that will boost them above 802.11g speeds when used with 802.11n gear. Airgo plans a 4th generation chipset for 802.11n compliance.
The gateway has an estimated street price of $150 and the notebook adapter, $100. The gateway uses a 10/100 Mbps switch, which will underperform the 100 Mbps-plus throughput that Airgo’s chips have been shown to be capable of on the wireless side.
NetGear announced this morning it has product moving to retail channels with draft 802.11n chips: The NetGear RangeMax Next product line is shipping to retailers, and available soon. NetGear gets bragging rights (as Belkin did with Pre-N) for the first products to market with draft 802.11n built in. The draft standard (see previous item) may require firmware changes or more drastic changes depending on whom you ask.
NetGear claims up to 300 Mbps performance with their line of products, which should mean 150 Mbps to 200 Mpbs of actual throughput. They’ll offer both gigabit switched and 10/100 Mbps switched gateways and CardBus cards. They also have an DSL modem, PCI Card, and plain access point. These products use chipsets from Marvell.
The gigabit kit (card and gateway) lists for $349, staggering, but the only option for that kind of wireless performance; the gateway and CardBus adapter are $249 and $129 separately. The 10/100 Mbps switched gateway lists for $179, the DSL device is $249, the regular CardBus adapter is $129 (oddly priced identically with the gigabit card), the PCI Card is $129, and the access point $249.
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.
Paul Callahan updates his report on 802.11n silicon: He had earlier noted credible first-person reports that Marvell’s upcoming 802.11n chips were performing quite poorly in early testing. Marvell rebutted that to him, stating that they have chips in production (not just sampling or small quantities for testing), that performance is fine, and that consumer devices like gateways will sport the chips—not just specialized products.
Proof is in the pudding, of course, but the pudding should be out of the oven and in the fridge within a few weeks.
Tim Higgins posted a long review of NetGear’s RangeMax 240 which uses Airgo’s 3rd generation MIMO chips: He found that despite the promise by Airgo for this chipset to back off from using the equivalent of two Wi-Fi channels (40 MHz) when it detected other Wi-Fi networks on active channels nearby, current firmware fails at this task. He has the charts and graphs to show it. He also notes that Airgo and NetGear are aware of this problem.
He did find that the devices can deliver over 100 Mbps of real throughput, which is a first for any Wi-Fi-like device, and more significant still in a consumer-level product. (The NetGear has just 10/100 Ethernet switching, so it can’t deliver more than about 94 Mbps in Tim’s testing to a single port.)
If there are any other 802.11b/g networks in the vicinity, it makes no sense to install this generation of Airgo-based equipment until firmware problems are resolved. eWeek reached the same conclusion (less exhaustively but just as completely) two weeks ago.
Even when they are resolved, the Adaptive Channel Expansion (ACE) algorithm is somewhat different than what I heard from Airgo in Sept. 2005. Tim writes, “I should also note that Airgo told me that when it is working, it will take 5 to 10 minutes (!) to tune away from a neighboring WLAN that is detected after the RM240 completes its initial power-up sequence—if the RM240 sees “lots of continuous traffic” in the neighbor.”
In Sept., Airgo’s director of product marketing, Dave Borison, said that ACE didn’t create negative effects on neighborhing channels, and that it performs a frame-by-frame check on adjacent channels—but apparently, this just applies to b/g clients on the Airgo-based device’s network. Clearly, the current firmware in Tim Higgins testing doesn’t live up to that promise yet for adjacent networks.
Buffalo will ship 240 Mbps MIMO gateway, PC Card in February: It uses Airgo’s third-generation chips. The gateway will have a street price of $149; the adapter, $99.
NetGear previously announced its MIMO equipment in Nov.: They’re showing their Airgo-based gear at CES, too, but a shipping date doesn’t appear to be available. They were originally expecting to ship by Christmas.
Meanwhile, Atheros talks about the next-next-generation MIMO: The company is demonstrating a 3x3 array which will provide 300 Mbps of raw bandwidth, or about 25% more than Airgo’s gear. But we don’t know about the net throughput: Airgo says 100 Mbps for their system. (For more on what 3x3 means, see this Wireless Net DesignLine article that spells out why 3x3 might be the better route for 802.11n without dramatically increasing complexity or cost for chipmakers and gateway manufacturers.)
Tim Higgins rounds up most of the MIMO gateways and PC Cards out there for head-to-head, quantitative comparisons: HIs exhaustive testing and results analysis at Tom’s Networking reveals that Belkin’s Airgo implementation has the best consistent bandwidth performance, critical to gaming, voice over IP, and streaming media. (Linksys declined to provide equipment for testing, but it’s quite similar only more expensive.)
Interestingly, Higgins discovered that the newer Belkin equipment based on Airgo’s second-generation chips—cheaper and with one fewer receive channel than the first generation—provide equivalent or better consistent performance than the original Pre-N labeled devices. He recommends Belkin’s gear for its consistent performance.
For pure average throughput, Zyxel, D-Link, and TrendNet come in on the top, with both Belkin generations next in line alongside NetGear’s RangeMax. Higgins recommends D-Link, Zyxel, and TrendNet for best throughput.
He is down on the Super G mode from Atheros found in several devices he tested because its fastest mode (with or without MIMO options) requires a switch from two-channel to one-channel operation whenever “normal” 802.11b or g is detected. These changes in channel usage are what cause the great variations in consistent delivery of bits rather than overall throughput. In denser networking environments, like an apartment building or older residential neighborhood with small lots, the channel-bonding mode of Super G can barely add bits.
SMC is using Ralink’s chipsets for its new MIMO gear: The set of equipment includes a gateway, a PC Card, and a PCI Card for $140, $60, and $60, respectively. More devices in the line are due next year. The technology isn’t described in depth in this press release, but it appears to be promising better range and throughput but not increased throughput.
NetGear is the first to announce shipping dates for routers, cards based on Airgo’s 240 Mbps third-generation MIMO chips: The NetGear product line, called RangeMax 240, will start shipping “this holiday season” with the router and PC Card for retail prices of $199 and $129. The USB 2.0 adapter will ship next year for a price not mentioned.
The third-generation Airgo chips avoid colliding with other Wi-Fi networks by examining radio frequency usage dynamically. They can use multiple data streams as the frequency space is available rather than just dropping to a lower speed for a few minutes and testing whether the coast is clear. This improves overall throughput even in Wi-Fi-filled environments.
The net throughput should exceed 100 Mbps Ethernet speeds when all RangeMax 240 gear is used. The devices are backwards compatible with previous generation Airgo chips and with 802.11b and 802.11g devices.
Interesting story about Ruckus multiple-antenna technology and Selina Lo, its CEO: The company changed its name as it introduced consumer-oriented hardware to shift its business away from competing in the commodity, already-overcrowded market of supplying consumer Wi-Fi MIMO add-on to video delivery. They’re already shipping devices to PCCW, the giant Hong Kong telecom provider.
The technology has to take off in the home, and it’s not compatible or interoperable with anything else. Still, it’s a great idea, and consumer buy odd technology if it works—and often when it doesn’t (viz., Atheros’s semi-abandoned Turbo dual-channel bonding mode).
Selina Lo is a hoot; I’ve interviewed her, and it’s always a pleasure to talk to someone that frank, although she freely acknowledges in this article she can offend people through her “rough” and “tough” attitude.
Video54’s now Ruckus Wireless and is focusing on video: The company creates overlay chips and antennas that allow beamforming with spatial diversity—not exactly the spatial multiplexing of Airgo’s MIMO, but it still packs a bunch, as seen in the NetGear hardware that incorporates its first-generation technology overlayed on an Atheros chipset.
Ruckus will focus on video and has built quality-of-service (QoS) prioritization into its systems so that spatial paths can be blended with QoS to give video streams and signal paths greater priority for clearer signals. Their method is not identical to the still-in-progress 802.11e—it may be ratified this month—which has had bits and pieces turn into software and firmware in shipping products. QoS is supposed to allow different kinds of data to have different priority on the same network to keep voice, video, and data flowing without glitches.
I’ll be curious how this plays out in heterogeneous networks with many kinds of 802.11a/b/g and proprietary extension adapters using Ruckus Wireless gateways. The company can offer certain kinds of efficiencies at the hub, but as with a lot of this newer multipath technology, equipping all computers and systems with the same technology produces the optimum results.
The company seems to be expecting its technology to be hook into home-entertainment components, allowing a digital video recorder to stream its video to a remote display, among other tasks.
Its first hardware products, a gateway and an adapter, have retail prices of $169 and $129, respectively.
Mobile Pipeline loves Belkin’s G+MIMO gear: The newer, cheaper MIMO hardware from Belkin—based on Airgo’s second-generation MIMO chips—scores high in the analysis of this reviewer. Belkin downplayed this device in comparison with its so-called Pre-N (first-generation Airgo-based) equipment, but the reviewer finds that it performs as well or better. He recommends buying the $100 router but holding off on the PC Card to get enough of an advantage.
Linksys announced today it was shipping its version of this router, the WRT54GX2, with a street price of about $100.
Zyxel is the latest to introduce a MIMO gateway: Their device, the XtremeMIMO X-550—you can say the name with your lips clenched—uses Atheros’s AR5005VL MIMO chipset. The router supports Windows Connect Now for simpler connectivity using a USB flash drive. It includes WPA and WPA2 support.
The Pre-N name must have caused Belkin enough distracting grief that their revised line-up is now labeled Wireless G Plus: Their new MIMO products are a huge drop in price using the latest Airgo chips, with a router at $100 (suggested retail), PC Card at $80, and USB adapter at $90. The new PC Card and router will ship in August; the USB adapter in December.
PC World applied its usual extensive testing to six consumer MIMO routers (True, beamforming, and multi-antenna varieties): They put Linksys’s WRT54GX at the top of the list despite its higher price than other multiple-antenna gateways due to its steady short and long range performance and ease of setup. Belkin’s early entry in the market was noted as a best buy, but PC World noted its short-range performance is undistinguished.
NetGear’s RangeMax had the best short-range performance, with PC World measuring 31 Mbps, but thought its long-distance speeds mediocre. They also found that they couldn’t disable channel bonding when nearby networks were operating, but NetGear says they’ve fixed this problem. (Side note: I found that RangeMax topped out at about 30 Mbps in my testing, too, for a Mobile Pipeline article. NetGear says they can reach 40 Mbps of real throughput, so I’m happy to see PC World confirm my experience.)
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.)
JiWire offers a long review of Linksys’s MIMO router: They find the Linksys SRX is the best-performing MIMO router they’ve tested so far but would like setup improved and the price dropped.
Buffalo Technology uses Airgo chips to enter the MIMO market: Buffalo will ship a gateway and PC Card in mid-May similar to those offered by Belkin and Linksys. The retail price is $189 and $119, respectively.
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.
USA Today columnist calls MIMO-equipped gateways out of the ballpark: Despite problems he had using a Linksys WRT54GX’s flash settings, Edward Baig was impressed with the results of MIMO when using just a MIMO adapter or just a MIMO gateway, a common sentiment. He tested a variety of real-world conditions and found that even the worst cases were far better than plain 802.11g. Price is an issue, but he doesn’t stress it as performance obviously exceeded his expectations.
Craig Mathias of the Farpoint Group runs down the state of MIMO and its future: MIMO’s current technology appears in products from four vendors, two of which are following a multiple antenna strategy that the other two (and their chip supplier Airgo) say flatly isn’t MIMO. Airgo, Linksys, and Belkin would argue that spatial multiplexing, or sending data over the same frequencies through different paths is MIMO while the others use beamforming and phase array techniques.
Mathias recommends MIMO unhesitatingly after performing tests with Belkin’s Pre-N gear and a variety of 802.11g adapters and gateways. He points out rightly that for distance and throughput, MIMO beats cheaper 802.11g devices because of the complexity—and might be cheaper depending on how many 802.11g devices you’d have to put together to reach the same results.