Historically the transition to new wifi standards has been a horrible mess.
With the launch of the current 802.11n standard, we saw several different types of products, all based on the same draft version of the standard. Dubbed Pre-N and Draft-N, these devices lacked interoperability, which made for an incredibly messy transition, and a whole bunch of products that were effectively rendered useless once the 802.11n standard was ratified.
It is important to keep this situation in mind when looking at the next wireless standard, 802.11ac, informally known as gigabit wifi. Routers are already appearing on the market, and USB adapters will arrive in the coming months - despite the fact that the standard won’t be ratified until early next year.
Given that early adopters were burned by the transition to 802.11n, scepticism is to be expected over these first generation products. To get a handle on just what has changed we spoke with Netgear’s retail product manager David Henry and Broadcom’s wireless marketing director, Dino Belkis.
The most significant difference between the two transitions is the involvement of at least three different manufacturers pushing solutions in the leadup to 802.11n, Henry said.
He said it not only caused product confusion but delayed the actual ratification of the standard. Broadcom is the first company with 802.11ac silicon this time around.
Belkis said the industry had learnt its lesson with 802.11n. With 802.11ac, the industry “recognised the importance of quickly converging”.
Not only is there an inherent compatibility advantage in the already wide adoption of Broadcom’s various processors, but both Henry and Belkis said any changes made between now and the ratification of 802.11ac would be handled with software updates and not via changes to the base design of hardware.
As Belkis put it: “For early adopters the best case will be no issue at all, the worst case will involve driver or firmware updates”.
Henry said currently absent 802.11ac features like beamforming will come with software updates rather than hardware revisions.
The other big piece of the puzzle involves 802.11ac clients. While Netgear was first with an 802.11ac router, there are now numerous routers on the market (all using Broadcom’s processor).
Netgear expects to have USB adapters available locally towards the end of September, but both Henry and Belkis indicated that a large number of devices with 802.11ac support will be announced at CES 2013.
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Issue: 316 | July 2013
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