With confusion mounting over the arrival of 802.11n products, we asked a few questions of David Henry, director of product marketing, consumer products, at Netgear. He answered by email.

Why would Netgear launch a draft 11n product which seems to be inferior to a product they already have?
I disagree with the notion that ths is an inferior product. It depends on what the customer values. If the customer wants highest speeds and best range – we give them two choices: RangeMax 240 and RangeMax Next. If they appreciate the “compliant to draft 802.11n” feature, then the Next product is the one for them. If not, then RangeMax 240 is the right one. We see customers in other categories buy products based on potential future benefit. HD TVs have been very popular, long before there was any HD programming or even HD service available. I’ve heard arguments that 64-bit processors were not useful at the time of launch due to other constraints in the system. So there is a precedent for customers buying solutions that help prepare them for the future.

With that said, Netgear does not claim 802.11n upgradability – and we will not until we have delivered on that. But with around 45 percent of the IEEE vote already supporting the first draft, we see the path to ratification of the standard and we don’t foresee drastic changes.

Tests such as those carried out by Craig Mathias suggest that products based on the Airgo 3rd-generation chipset would give better performance. Does the Netgear's Airgo-based Rangemax 240 give better performance than the draft-802.11n products?
Our RangeMax 240 is award winning 3rd generation technology. So comparing it to a 1st generation technology that follows a draft-11n purely on performance is not apples to apples. However we’ve noticed that the products are comparable. In some distances and environments our RM240 performs better, and at others the Next performs better. Just like a PC that you buy that gets better with updates, or an iPod that you upgrade periodically, our wireless products get better with firmware upgrades that we make available to our customers after first shipment. We’ve seen tremendous improvement just in the last month – and the reviews of the coming weeks and months will show that.

Other tests have shown that draft 802.11n products cause interference to b/g networks that are operating nearby, to the extent that neither the draft-n or the b/g network give proper performance. Have you seen this?
In any wireless product (b,g, mimo, etc.) when there are two near each other, there is a performance impact. This is because on the 2.4 Ghz frequency there are only 3 non-overlapping channels – 3 lanes on the highway if you will. If two neighboring networks are using the same channel, then they both slow down. This is expected behavior for all wireless products. With our RangeMax Next and RangeMax 240 products we use 40 Mhz – which means we use 2 channels instead of one. This means that the chance of performance impact due to sharing the highway is greater. We have implemented a “neighbour-friendly” feature in our RangeMax Next (Marvell, Broadcom) and RangeMax 240 (Airgo) to ensure that when there are neighbouring networks, and the neighbouring network is transmitting data, that our products can ramp down to 1 channel. In this situation, it interferes with neighbors just like standard b and g.

There's one reason you might go for a draft-n product, and that is the promise of standards, which should allow products to work together, but tests show that draft-n products don't work with each other at the higher speeds the products allow. Is the draft-n product just a means to get a press release out about draft-n?
No – we are very much behind this product and this launch. We are delivering it to the market in high volume. Everyone in the value chain (chipset, OEM, retail/ecom channel) is pushing this launch like none before…. as are our competitors. This is not a niche SKU (stock-keeping unit) that only appears on websites, it will be a volume line.