WiFi Alliance Plans to Certify ‘N’ Standard

The WiFi Alliance on Tuesday announced plans to certify interoperability of WiFi products that include baseline features from the developing Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers 802.11n standard in the first half of 2007.

This is the first phase in a certification program of the next generation of WiFi products. A second phase brings full alignment with the ratified standard.

The IEEE recently updated its estimated timeline for ratification of a full 802.11n standard, and is now targeting the first quarter of 2008 for final approval. However, WiFi products implementing features from the draft specification are in the marketplace now, and analysts forecast that tens of millions of pre-standard devices will ship in 2007.

“This two-phase approach balances our longstanding commitment to standards-based technology with the current market need for product interoperability certification,” said WiFi Alliance Managing Director Frank Hanzlik. “While we are committed to supporting a full 802.11n standard when it is available, pre-standard products are reaching a level of maturity and there is enough market uptake that a certification program makes sense for the industry.”

Compatibility Support

The WiFi Alliance expects that the second phase of the program, to be introduced at the time of final IEEE 802.11n ratification, will support compatibility between certified pre-standard products and those certified to the full standard.

“The ratified IEEE 802.11n is likely to include a larger set of features and will be a fully-reviewed standard,” Hanzlik said. “We believe the maturity of the baseline features in the pre-standard certification diminishes the risk that products won’t comply with IEEE 802.11n when it is ratified.”

This approach makes sense in light of the recent schedule change from IEEE, according to Gartner Vice President Ken Dulaney.

“With this interim interoperability program, we achieve a technology advancement to fill the gap until the 802.11n standard and associated WiFi certification is finally approved,” Dulaney said. “With WiFi Alliance backing, this interim certification can achieve industry interoperability — something the alternative approaches to date were unable to guarantee.”

Still No Guarantees

The certification marks used for the first phase of the program will clearly indicate that the certified products are pre-standard, so that consumers will understand that what they are purchasing is not based on a ratified IEEE standard. The WiFi Alliance will announce further details of this program when it is finalized.

At least one analyst disagrees with the WiFi Alliance’s decision. Burton Group Senior Analyst Mike Disabato is breaking ranks with the group on this issue, the first time he has ever done so.

“The ‘N’ standard hasn’t been approved by the IEEE and until it is everybody who buys any equipment is at risk to have it thrown out when the standard is finally approved. I’ve been saying this for three years,” he told TechNewsWorld.

“Until the IEEE makes the standard there is no standard,” he continued. “Saying that they are going to certify this is irresponsible at best. It’s a bad mistake.”

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