1) How will 802.11g impact the market, once the standard is finalized?

The first pre-802.11g products are anticipated to be available in early 2003, although they may have interoperability issues with the eventual, final version of the standard. Pre-802.11g products will likely debut at prices fairly higher than what consumers can purchase 802.11b products for, so the question becomes how much of a premium will the market allow for these new, higher rate products?

Additionally, there isn’t a strong need for the higher rates of 802.11g (or 802.11a for that matter) because there are no compelling applications that require faster data rates – most particularly in the home segment where WAN connect speed is limited by the user’s broadband access technology. However, by early 2004, prices may approach that of today’s 802.11b devices, making a stronger case for a broad market transition from 802.11b to 802.11g, as well as to combo 11a/b/g offerings. The exception to this market transition timeframe is the mobile handheld device category, where the data-rates, power consumption, form factor/size and cost of 802.11b will continue to be better suited for these products’ requirements.

2) What are the next steps in order to reach final approval?

In September the Working Group members voted on the first letter ballot of the 802.11g draft specification and attained an approval of 80.5 percent. This marks the first time the spec has cleared the key hurdle of 75 percent, allowing it to progress to the next step in approval. Also at this meeting, the Task Group reviewed and adopted resolutions for 205 new technical and editorial comments submitted by members.

A new ballot will be issued before the November meeting where comments will again be resolved. At that point, the Task Group may recommend sending the draft spec to the next level – Sponsor Ballot – where a broader set of IEEE members will vote on it. Using previous draft standards as a guide, this Sponsor Ballot process may take several iterations. The present forecast from the 802.11 Working Group Chair calls for final ratification of 802.11g at the May 2003 members meeting.

3) What is TI’s roadmap for 802.11g?

TI has had 802.11a OFDM silicon working in our labs for some time. Using this OFDM technology along with our 802.11b solution that is currently available in TI’s ACX100, we have been developing and testing 802.11g capabilities to make sure that we can offer the full benefits of 802.11g to our customers. This includes the ability to operate 802.11g and 802.11b devices concurrently on the same channel.

We are dedicated to staying true to the intent of 802.11g by planning to offer full 54Mbps capabilities in the 2.4GHz band with OFDM and simultaneous 802.11b operation to maintain compatibility with the current installed base. We expect to be in full production with our 802.11g and associated multimode 802.11g/a solution in 1Q 2003.

4) What is the 802.11g standard as it stands now?

The 802.11g PAR (Project Authorization Request) specified two key requirements for 802.11g solutions:

1. mandatory rate(s) greater than 20Mbps in the 2.4GHz band, and,
2. backwards compatibility with 802.11b.

The technical solution adopted for 802.11g mandates the use of OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing). The highest mandatory data rate for 802.11g is 24Mbps, similar to 802.11a. Additionally, two optional rate extensions were specified to enable maximum flexibility of 802.11g solutions. These options are CCK-OFDM and PBCC. The table below shows the mandatory and optional rates of 802.11b, 802.11g and 802.11a.

5) What are the implications of offering 802.11g products before the standard has been ratified?

In previous standards body instances, including examples from early IEEE 802.11 developments, some products fielded prior to the ratification of a new standard suffered from non-compliance and/or interoperability problems. Depending on how individual vendors implement their products, problems arising from late changes to the draft standard could possibly be fixed via software or firmware patches. This requires a significant amount of customer support to ensure all fielded products are upgraded to become standard compliant. However, the worst-case scenario would be if the change to the draft standard could only be fixed in hardware, thereby rendering early offerings completely incompatible with standards-based products shipping after ratification. For vendors and consumers of pre-standard devices, there is a definite risk in making such a choice.

6) Are all of the wireless security issues solved in 802.11g?

The 802.11g draft standard does not address security issues for 802.11 WLANs. A separate Task Group, 802.11i, is presently developing security enhancements for all 802.11 WLANs – 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g.

7) What comes next in the 802.11x wireless saga? Higher speeds, lower cost or ???

All of the above. There are already early study group activities within the IEEE looking at higher throughput extensions to 802.11 (not just data-rate, but the entire network throughput), better utilization of radio channel qualities, security, Quality of Service, etc. Outside IEEE standards activities, vendors are looking to differentiate their offerings and we are seeing the emergence of multi-protocol solutions (ie, WLAN + WWAN), extremely low power 802.11b, higher levels of integration to enable embedded applications, and the like. The evolutionary extensions of WLAN technology are just beginning to flourish.

Bill Carney is Director of Business Development for the Texas Instruments Wireless Networking Business Unit, formerly Alantro Communications. TI acquired Alantro in September 2000, where he had served as Vice-President of Sales & Marketing. Previously, he was Senior Director of Worldwide Corporate Marketing at Synopsys, Inc., where he led the company’s overall marketing efforts. Prior to his role at Synopsys, he spent 14 years with LSI Logic Corporation in a variety of management-level marketing and sales positions. Mr. Carney has extensive experience working with major US-based customers, as well as strong knowledge of the European and Japanese markets. Mr. Carney received his degree in electrical engineering from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.