There’s a new wireless 802.11 standard in the works, called 802.11n, that 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. The developing “n” standard also is expected to offer better reach through walls and into dead spots and will use multiple radios to send and receive data, making it better at handling large video files.

Analysts say the emergence of 802.11n could hasten the deployment of converged wireless networks in schools, though the final version of the standard won’t be issued until 2008 or 2009. Already, however, the wireless industry trade group Wi-Fi Alliance says it will begin certifying so-called “Draft N” equipment this summer–though many school technology directors say they won’t buy n-certified products until the final specification is released.

If you’re wondering what it will take to upgrade to n-level equipment later on, after investing in 802.11a/b/g gear now, Aruba Networks’ Mike Rogers says customers will have to replace their access points, but not the software that controls them.

“There are no access points currently installed in enterprises, including Aruba customers, that can be upgraded purely by software,” says Rogers, who is manager of customer engineering for Aruba. “This is because the radio is different, in order to split and combine several RF streams, and the antennas are different–usually at least three on the access point. On the other hand, … Aruba’s customers will not need to replace their controllers, because the comprehensive feature set–which mostly resides in the controllers–will still be relevant.”

Jennifer Nastu is a freelance writer living in Fort Collins, Colorado. She writes frequently on technology in education.