When the highly contentious IEEE 802.11n task group meets in Hawaii next week, it had better be to finalize the minutiae of how to get a 75 percent majority behind the much-awaited next generation of wireless-LAN technology. If it fails, WLAN is liable to lose ground to competing technologies, such as ultrawideband and wired home-networking options and lose engagements with potential customers pushing for a standard upon which to base interoperable consumer devices.
It's not that 802.11n has been slow; in fact, it has progressed remarkably fast in standards time. However, according to Intel, Broadcom, Marvel, Atheros and others, that wasn't fast enough in light of customers' need to get standard silicon as early as this year. Although those companies were on opposing sides of a crucial technical debate within the task group, they drew together as the Enhanced Wireless Consortium to help accelerate the 802.11n process, and announced EWC in October. And that's when the trouble started.
The EWC claimed it would have a solid proposal by November, per the standards body's Joint Proposal deadline. But companies like Airgo Networks whose multiple-input, multiple-output technology will be the foundation for whatever comes out of the task group's work cried foul, claiming this was a delaying tactic. The EWC countered that the delay served strictly to enhance the proposal and to include features amenable to consumer and mobile devices, and that it would result in a better, more reliable specification in the end.
As in all these debates, the truth lies somewhere in between. But nothing speaks more loudly than the bottom line, and if last week's Consumer Electronics Show was any indication, the announcements from ultrawideband proponents in the context of mobile, personal-area connectivity should usher in a renewed sense of urgency. Products now coming from Belkin using Freescale's chips, and Alereon's demonstrating Bluetooth over ultrawideband, raise the possibility that UWB will complement wired networks or even achieve whole-home connectivity using routers. Time is a luxury this group can't afford. Bury the hatchet and get it done.
By Patrick Mannion (firstname.lastname@example.org), editor of EE Times