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802.11n ratification on the horizon

It now appears inevitable that 802.11n will be ratified by the IEEE before the end of this year! The expectation by most everyone is that it will be approved at the next IEEE Standards Board meeting on Sept 11th, 2009. It’s a long time coming, but when it does happen it will close the door on any possibility of compatibility or hardware upgrade concerns related to 802.11n draft 2.0 products and the eventual 802.11n standard. This will ease a concern for customers considering 11n technology. To be fair, this concern has significantly decreased over time, but definitely still exists with a large number of customers.The risk of compatibility issues between draft 2.0 and the final 11n standard was a relatively strong barrier for 11n adoption about two years ago. In fact, vendors in the consumer space were delivering “11n” products that in many cases were not compatible -- irritating for consumers and a non-starter for most businesses. The Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) helped bring sanity to the madness around interoperability nightmares by introducing a certification program in June 2007 based on the draft 2.0 version of the 11n standard. This certification program is a key factor behind the success of this technology to date -- especially in businesses. As of today, 653 products have gone through this certification. The WFA put out a statement earlier today that all previously certified draft 2.0 products will be eligible without retesting to use the approved 802.11n logo for an updated certification program per the final 11n standard since these products meet all core requirements -- again, good news for anyone concerned about interoperability.Cisco also played a large part in making 11n technology a mainstream choice for businesses. It was the first to ship and certify an enterprise-class 802.11n draft 2.0 AP with the Cisco Aironet 1250 Series. In fact, the Aironet 1250 Series was selected to be in the WFA test bed. This means all 653 products and counting have been certified with the 1250 Series as the AP in the test bed. Additionally, the 1250 Series was developed with a modular radio design to ease the concerns associated with potential compatibility issues that could have developed as draft 2.0 progressed. These two factors helped many of our customers decide to deploy 11n with confidence.Now what? There are a lot of areas to improve upon even within the confines of an 11n standard. One misconception is that all products that conform to a standard are equal. Competitors aside, Cisco has dramatically improved the performance of its own 11n APs from initial introduction just by optimizing the implementation. Same hardware -- much, much better performance. Raw performance is one metric of many and is far from “standardized” in terms of benchmarking -- i.e. TCP, UDP, upstream, downstream, consistency, packet sizes, distance, client technology (ABGN), air quality, 20 MHz, 40MHz, client count, etc. There’s a lot to performance that goes well beyond the max data rate of the hardware….more on this later. For now, it’s time to revel in a really nice milestone for the WLAN industry. Go Wi-Fi!

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