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802.11g not yet ratified, but early reports promising

Wireless LAN products based on the new 802.11g standard make impressive strides in throughput, but experts say they may not be ready for enterprise adoption until the IEEE standards body gives its blessing to 802.11g.

Some vendors have begun shipping the first of a new, faster breed of wireless LAN products, and though there are benefits to these new access points, experts say they are not quite ready for the enterprise market yet.

In mid-December, Buffalo Technology Inc., the Austin, Texas-based wireless vendor, shipped the first 802.11g wireless local area network access points. They are a great improvement over the popular 802.11b access points, many say.

The biggest benefit is their throughput, said Gemma Paulo, a senior analyst with In-Stat/MDR, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based research firm. They are faster than the 802.11 nodes that have become so popular -- 54M bit/sec, as opposed to 802.11b's 11M bit/sec.

That is the same speed as the competing 802.11a standard. But the new approach has a distinct advantage. It is backwards compatible. Because 802.11g works in the same 2.4 GHz spectrum as 802.11b, the systems are interchangeable, Paulo said.

And the price is right. Morikazu Sano, vice president of Buffalo's networking division, said his company sells its 802.11g access points for $129.95, just $10 more than its 802.11b access points.

Access points based on 802.11g are likely to be popular for businesses, particularly those that want to expand existing 802.11b networks, said Charles Golvin, a senior analyst with the Cambridge, Mass., research firm Forrester Research Inc. One reason, he said, is because it provides a smooth upgrade from 802.11b. The backwards compatibility makes it simple for business to begin installing 802.11g nodes even while their employees still have 802.11b cards in their laptops, he said. The new access points work with both cards.

The only drawback will be a loss of throughput between the two standards. Though 802.11g is much faster than 802.11b, when a node is getting signals from both 802.11b and 802.11g cards, the speed for the 802.11g connection drops, Paulo said. But the speed for the 802.11b card actually increases.

So why wait? Because the standard is not yet ratified, Golvin said. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) is scheduled to ratify the 802.11g standard in June. While the draft is complete enough for vendors like Buffalo and Irvine, Calif.-based wireless vendor Linksys to feel comfortable shipping products that use it, Golvin said that many business may not yet feel comfortable buying such products.

In fact, some vendors are not yet ready to jump into the 802.11g market either. San Jose-based Cisco Systems Inc. will not release 802.11g products until the standard has been ratified, said Shripati Acharya, senior product marketing manger with Cisco's wireless unit. "There are too many open issues," he said. "If the first experience of the product is not positive, then that can impact deployment."

Golvin said that before the standard is ratified, there may be issues with interoperability among products from different vendors. The Wi-Fi Alliance, which certifies wireless LAN equipment for interoperability, will not begin certifying 802.11g products until after the standard is ratified.

Sano said that Buffalo is guaranteeing that it will upgrade its access points with software patches, if necessary, to meet the standard. The draft standard is likely very close to what will be ratified.

But many companies may not want the added hassle of having to make software changes to their access points, Paulo said. Even Sano said that until the standard is ratified, the company will not be targeting the enterprise market. For the time being, he said, small business and home office users are the likely market.


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