Netgear claims to be able to offer Wi-Fi at 240Mbit/s with its new router, restarting the wireless game of speed claim and counter-claim.
The RangeMax 240 products' real performance should match 100Mbit/s Fast Ethernet under certain conditions, which is still enough to put them two jumps ahead of the official standards, since the 100Mbit/s fast Wi-Fi standard, 802.11n, is still under development at the IEEE standards body.
Netgear makes a 240 Mbit/s claim for the RangeMax 240, shown this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and using Airgo's third generation MIMO chipset, but modifies this to "as fast as wired Ethernet" when actual application throughput is considered. The Wi-Fi industry traditionally overstates throughput by quoting the symbol rate at which raw data can be transmitted and ignoring the fact that much of it is used in the overhead of wireless networking protocols - so for instance 802.11g has a symbol rate of 54 Mbit/s, but only delivers around 20Mbit/s of usable throughput. Wired networks have a much smaller overhead, so Fast Ethernet delivers around 80Mbit/s with a symbol rate of 100 Mbit/s.
Only a month ago, Netgear settled a class-action lawsuit that had accused it of inflating the true data speeds of its Wi-Fi networking devices. The company paid $700,000 before it got to court.
The Airgo technology, which uses three antennas to create multiple signal paths (known as multiple input, multiple output or MIMO) is also being used in Linksys products. Last year, Netgear sparked a row with Airgo over the meaning of MIMO, by putting a MIMO on routers which use a smart antenna system from Ruckus (formerly Video54), and had a claimed speed of more than 100 Mbit/s (actual speed somewhat less).
As usual, the claimed speed puts a multiplier on a real speed increase, and Netgear's claim to go as fast as wired Ethernet may actually be true - although wired and wireless networks can't be compared directly. Wi-Fi throughput is shared between all the devices attached to a given access point, and falls off with distance - although MIMO does improves the range, as well as the speed.
Two questions remain: what is all this speed for, and when will it be standardised? Since most Internet access goes over broadband, today's SOHO Wi-Fi traffic network faces a bottleneck of 2Mbit/s or less, and faster Wi-Fi has looked irrelevant. Vendors like Ruckus have decided to push their products towards the role of distributing multimedia, such as movies and HDTV around the home, predicting an eventual merger with the set-top box.
Meanwhile, as Netgear, Linksys and other vendors are delivering faster and faster wireless products to consumers and SOHO users, the official standards seem less and less able to keep up. The IEEE's 802.11n group, set up in 2004 to produce a standard for Wi-Fi at around 100 Mbit/s, has failed to choose between rival proposals. EWC, a pressure group set up by Intel may force agreement on the deadlocked group and produce a draft standard later this month, but the group is controversial, particularly over the extent to which it takes account of Airgo.
"802.11n wont be ratified this year," predicts Glenn Fleishman of Wi-Fi Networking News. He expects to see a draft agreed this year, and ratified in 2007 - subntly renamed: "whats sometimes referred to as a new '100Mbit/s' standard will start being called a '200Mbit/s' standard."