802.11n: The Future Of WiFi

The alphabet soup that is wireless networking will soon get a new addition to its family as talks heat up over the future of 802.11n. Currently scheduled to be ready some time around 2006 or 2007 -- although products could appear as early as 2005 -- 802.11n will deliver transfer speeds of at least 100Mbps and could top out at five times that.

Two competing technologies are currently at the forefront vying for the US Institute of Electric and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) blessing to become the next standard. The first, WWiSE, which stands for WorldWide Spectrum Efficiency, is backed by Texas Instruments, Broadcom, Conextant, STMicro, Airgo, and Bermai. WWiSEis backers believe that 802.11n needs to be able use the 20MHz channel width -- the same as 802.11b and 802.11g -- lest it follow the path of the less common 802.11a, which shed backwards compatibility for faster speeds (both 802.11a and 802.11g operate at 54Mbps, but 802.11gis backwards compatibility with 802.11b has let it trump 802.11a). Thanks to some fancy acronyms, WWiSE should be able to achieve speeds of up to 540Mbps by employing the Multiple Input, Multiple Output (MIMO) many-antennae technique and Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM).

Such higher speeds would be achieved by using a 4x4 aerial array and the 40MHz channel width, but thanks to its proposed 20MHz channel width compatibility, the technology would be able to fall back on slower technology when being used in countries that forbid use of the 40MHz channel.

In the other 802.11n corner stands TGn Sync, founded by Agere Systems and backed by Cisco, Intel, Nokia, Nortel, Philips, Sony, and others. Like WWiSE, TGn Sync plans to employ the 40MHz channel and use MIMO technology to achieve actual throughput speeds of around 175Mbs, with theoretical speeds topping 500Mbps. (To make matters more confusing, neither 11Mbps 802.11b nor 54Mbps 802.11a/g ever achieve those speeds, rather they top out at about half those figures and often operate and even less than that.)

Still confused? You can glean a bit information about 802.11n from these recent stories at Wi-Fi Planet, PC Magazine, The Register, and BBC News. And, of course, thereis always Google.