Next-generation Wi-Fi planned for this summer

Expect blazing new wireless devices to begin arriving in July and August. The next generation of wireless internet products is expected to be available this summer, even though a final standard for the technology isn’t due for at least another year, according to the wireless industry trade group Wi-Fi Alliance.

The Wi-Fi Alliance announced on May 16 that it will begin certifying wireless routers, networking cards, microchips, and other so-called "Draft N" products in June. The products, which take their name from the upcoming 802.11n technical standard, are expected to reach schools and other consumers shortly thereafter.

Wi-Fi comes in several flavors–"b," "a," "g," and soon "n"–referring to the subsection of the technical guidelines issued by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a technical professional organization.

The "n" version is expected to be about five times faster than the widely used "g" variety, reaching hypothetical data rates of up to 248 megabits per second (Mbps)–though in practice, speeds rarely reach what is listed on the box. Draft N products are said to offer better reach through walls and into dead spots and will use multiple radios to send and receive data, making them better at handling large video files.

Gear rated to handle n-level wireless connectivity already is being sold. But the Wi-Fi Alliance says certified Draft N equipment from different vendors is guaranteed to work together and to work with older certified Wi-Fi products, giving the devices an official stamp of approval.

Marc Liebman, superintendent of the Berryessa Union School District in California, said the "n" standard’s faster speed could spur the more widespread use of wireless networking in his district’s schools–giving students the flexibility to work in groups from different locations on campus. Berryessa has been slow to deploy wireless so far, he said, "because many of our applications include streaming video technologies."

"We need that speed when lots of kids are using the same material and the system gets overloaded," Liebman said. "Up to now, hardwire is the way we have needed to go to address that need for bandwidth."

Despite the new standard’s promise, some school technology directors told eSchool News they’ll be holding off on buying n-certified products, at least for now.

"For our school district, I believe that ‘n’ will be the next logical progression of our wireless infrastructure, but I would doubt that we will make much of a move in that direction for another year–if that soon," said Bob Moore, executive director of information technology services for the Blue Valley Unified School District in Kansas.

Noting that the final version of the "n" standard isn’t expected for some time, Moore added: "I think it is unfortunate that some vendors are so desperate for product churn and revenue that they are willing to sell products at the ‘draft’ level. Isn’t that another term for ‘beta,’ as in not ready for prime time?"

Karen Hanley, senior director of marketing for the Austin, Texas-based Wi-Fi Alliance, said the wireless industry shipped 200 million Wi-Fi products worldwide last year. Over the next few years, she said, these products will expand from mostly laptops and access points to Wi-Fi enabled cell phones, televisions, and video games.

Hanley said the final 802.11n standard isn’t expected until 2009.


Wi-Fi Alliance

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Blue Valley Schools

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