Chip makers claim 802.11n interoperability

The companies that make the guts of many wireless LAN products have made their chipsets talk to each other at faster than typical wired network speed using a version of the emerging IEEE 802.11n standard.

Broadcom Corp. and Atheros Communications Inc. said Wednesday they have achieved interoperability at more than 100M bps (bits per second) between devices made using their chipsets. They plan to show off that capability at the Computex trade show in Taipei next week.

The standard calls for throughput of at least 100M bps as well as other enhancements from the current 802.11a/b/g standards. The IEEE 802.11n Working Group has adopted a draft version of it that is being worked on now, and several vendors have announced products based on that draft. The standard isn't expected to get final approval until next year.

Interoperability between Broadcom's Intensi-fi and Atheros' XSpan chipsets should let many users mix and match draft-standard products from a wide range of vendors and enjoy the high speed promised by 802.11n. Between them, the two companies count many of the biggest vendors of wireless LAN gear, including D-Link Systems Inc., Netgear Inc., Belkin Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc.'s Linksys unit, as users of their current-standard chipsets. Together the companies' chipsets represent 90 percent of the world's consumer wireless router market, according to Broadcom. Atheros has already announced D-Link and Belkin as users of its upcoming draft 802.11n products.

The Wi-Fi Alliance will test and certify 802.11n products for interoperability just as it does now for gear based on the current 802.11 standards. The group is holding its first round of interoperability testing this week, but doesn't plan to certify products until the standard is signed off. However, many vendors have been selling products based on pre-standard versions of the new, faster technology for some time.

Vendors clashed over the new standard for years before the 802.11n working group adopted the draft earlier this year. Broadcom and Atheros were affiliated with one faction in the fight, while chipset maker Airgo Networks Inc. was a prominent backer of another approach. Airgo claimed earlier this month that there are serious problems with the first draft of 802.11n.

Establishing interoperability between the two chipset giants may help them lock in details for the final standard, said Peter Jarich, an analyst at Current Analysis. Atheros Chief Technology Officer Bill McFarland acknowledged it might have that effect. The companies will welcome other vendors, including Airgo, in their tests as those vendors get up to speed, he said.

"I think it will make it less attractive to tweak some of the fundamentals of the standard, because there are so many products on the market already," he said.

Broadcom and Atheros tested client and router reference designs based on chipsets from each vendor against each other, McFarland said. The tests showed the products could find each other, exchange the information they needed to start communicating, and consistently exchange data at more than 100M bps. The companies didn't test the products in all mandatory modes or any optional modes in the standard, he said.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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