The Wi-Fi Alliance has launched its brand for fast Draft N Wi-Fi products, in advance of the final IEEE 802.11n standard, with the first products including an access point from Cisco that hasn't yet been formally announced.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has put out a sticker which shows all the standards that a product meets, including 802.11b, g a and, on the right of the brand, draft 802.11n. Draft N standards can use both the crowded 2.4GHz spectrum of existing b/g Wi-Fi and the clearer space of 5GHz, which is the long term future.

To tell if a draft N product operates in the 5GHz band, users will have to check the left hand side of the brand, where the presence of an "a" will show backward compatibility with the existing (virtually unused) 5GHz standard, 802.11a.

Although 2.4GHz N products are likely to suffer interference from 802.11b/g products, it is still worth having them, said Karen Hanley, senior marketing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance. "There are absolutely still performance gains to be had from deploying 802.11n draft 2.0 in the 2.4 GHz band," but she expects a move to 5GHz: "We do expect that there will be increased use of the 5 GHz band with this new generation of Wi-Fi technology."

When the 802.11n standard is ratified, the logo will drop the word "draft", said Hanley. This will not be until at least the end of 2008.

Enterprises should be in no hurry to implement draft N, said Aruba's head of strategic marketing, Michael Tennefoss: "Purchasing pre-standard 802.11n is potentially risky, as it is not clear if it will be upgradeable, or whether the infrastructure can handle 802.11n throughput." Aruba has not yet announced a draft 802.11n access point, while rivals Meru and Colubris have. Cisco is playing its cards close to its chest, with an access point on the Alliance list, but no word yet when it will be announced.

The Alliance thinks enterprises should go ahead now. Hanley said:
Wi-Fi certified 802.11n draft 2.0 technology brings significant benefits to the enterprise environment, including improved performance and network efficiency. While enterprise buyers don't "look for the logo" the way consumers might, the brand has long been an important criterion for enterprise purchases of Wi-Fi gear. We expect that enterprise buyers will begin field testing 802.11n draft 2.0 gear in the very short term, and gradually migrate systems over the next two years."

"We plan to certify products based on the final IEEE 802.11n standard when it is ratified, supporting what we expect to be a larger set of features and a fully reviewed and interoperable standards based solution," said Hanley. "We expect these products to be fully compatible with pre-standard certified products to ensure a positive user experience."

Draft N should go up to five times faster than current 802.11g wireless, and have twice the range. Although the standard is not expected to be formally complete until at least 2008, the second draft is solid enough to build product on, and Draft N is a part of the latest Intel specifications for Centrino laptops. The Alliance will test these and other products for interoperability with each other, and the ability to work with older standards.

Wi-Fi Alliance research carried out by Kelton Research found that 78 percent of US Wi-Fi users are interested in upgrading their Wi-Fi systems to get more range and throughput, and that 70 percent of people would use a faster Wi-Fi connection to jump into multimedia applications.

Some devices have already been certified, including an Atheros Xspan dual-band router and card as well as a Broadcom Intensi-Fi router and card, a Cisco access point, and products from Intel, Marvell, Ralink and WildPackets.