Fast Wi-Fi products that could reach 300 Mbit/s came closer on Friday, when the IEEE 802.11 Working Group agreed on a draft for the forthcoming 802.11n standard. However, things may not be quite so simple.

The 1.0 draft, which specifies how advanced technology including MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) is based on an agreement amongst four silicon vendors (Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, and Marvell) which ended more than a year of arguments between competing specifications in the IEEE task group.

"The progression of the draft to 1.0 status and release to letter balloting is another huge step forward in the standardisation of 802.11n," said Bill McFarland, chief technology officer of Atheros Communications. "The 1.0 draft is technically extremely similar to the earlier drafts, changed primarily by editorial adjustments and additional text for clarity and completeness."

The fact that few changes were required at this stage suggests that the specification may face few barriers - or changes - before it becomes a full standard, which is expected to happen by the early part of 2007. In May, any suggestions will be discussed, and a final draft could be produced in July. Beyond this point, few technical changes would occur, and the higher echelons of the IEEE would go through the process of formally approving it as a standard.
“We expect that you’ll be able to see products on the store shelves certainly by the middle of this year implementing this 1.0 draft,” McFarland told Wi-Fi Networking News.

Atheros is already sampling silicon, and other vendors are also claiming to be first to 802.11n compatibility. Broadcom says its Intensi-fi range of chips meets the standard, and Marvell says the same about its 88W836X chipset.

All these vendors are showing 802.11n designs to customers - like Netgear, which has promised to deliver 802.11n-draft products by the end of June.
The fly in the ointment is the fact that there is a lot of non-standard MIMO kit already on the market. Alongside its promises of standard 802.11n equipment, Netgear has launched equipment which it rates at 240 Mbit/s, based on Airgo, and before that sold a lot of RangeMax equipment based on the Ruckus chipset smart antenna technology (read our review ).

At this stage, it looks like bad news for Airgo. "Vendors that teamed up with Airgo for proprietary releases simply aren't afraid to dump them in favour of a return to more traditional partners such as Broadcom and Atheros," says website Smarthouse.