Compromise yields new wireless standard

Another wireless Lan standard is expected to come into force in the next year or so, but analysts are far from impressed at the...

Another wireless Lan standard is expected to come into force in the next year or so, but analysts are far from impressed at the news of its inception, writes Antony Adshead.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has passed a proposal that will mean 802.11g can start to move ahead. After long debate, the IEEE's Wireless Lan Working Group managed to achieve a compromise between two delegates - chipmakers Intersil and Texas Instruments - over modulation and access methods. Neither supplier's scheme had won majority support on the body, so both have been included in the proposals.

The 802.11g proposal comes at a time when several standards are already jostling for position. Its sister standard 802.11b (11megabits per second - mbps - in the 2.4GHz band) is now one of the most widespread of WLan methods with many workplace and public area installations, despite potential problems of interference on a crowded frequency used also by mobile phones and medical equipment.

These problems were tackled with the 802.11a standard (54mbps/5GHz) and products using this standard are now shipping in the US. European communications body ETSI has not ratified the standard owing to interference problems with defence equipment.

802.11g may gain approval more readily because it will operate in the 802.11b frequency band while maintaining the higher bandwidth of 802.11a at 54mbps. The standard could be finalised within a year.

In Europe, ETSI has approved the rival standard Hiperlan, which is being touted as an alternative but is failing to make headway.

The proliferation of wireless Lan standards begs the question of just how many standards will have to be supported.

Ian Keene, an analyst with Gartner, said, "We need another standard like we need a hole in the head. Having said that, 11g is a long way off. There is much work to do, including the need for a sensible transition strategy from existing standards and problems to be solved with backwards compatibility and its modulation scheme."

Iain Stevenson of analyst firm Ovum agreed. "There are clearly too many standards and this raises the big issue of cost. While there is great benefit to be gained from increased bandwidth, users will have already installed wireless kit at some cost."

In the current 11a versus 11b battle UK firm Synad, convinced that ETSI will eventually approve 11a, is preparing to launch modules for mobile equipment that will bridge the two incompatible standards. Its Mercury 5G modules will use sophisticated software to determine and use whichever standard is being used locally.

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