Jonesing for Wi-Fi “n”

I’ve been pining over the new Apple Airport Extreme base station, which is based on the next-gen high speed Wi-Fi “n” standard, even though it’s still in the draft stage. newairportextreme.jpgThe new standard is supposed to offer speeds around 100 Mbps to 300 Mbps (theoretically 600 Mbps) — how could you not look forward to speeds like that? Meanwhile today there are reports that indicate that the latest draft of the 802.11n standard (draft 2.0) has been approved by an initial IEEE working group in charge [via WiFiNetNews, see added details in comments]. Yay, the standards train is starting to move.

Basically this all means you can start to feel a little more comfortable about buying the latest Wi-Fi “n” products as the standard gets closer to its final stage. With 20% of the WLAN chipset shipments expected to be “draft n” this year according to In-Stat, companies like Apple are already making its latest laptops support the Wi-Fi standard which can be unlocked with additional software. Yeah, you’ll have to pay the $2 (not $5) fee for the extra patch if you don’t pony up for Apple’s latest hardware. But c’mon, it’s worth the cost of two songs on iTunes.
This draft still needs to go through ratification and products need to be certified, though the Wi-Fi Alliance says some products should start to get certified in the first half of this year. But the closer the draft is to completion the better chance that products we can buy now will be compatible with the final standard.
It hasn’t really been a good idea to buy the 802.11 n branded Wi-Fi products in the past, as the companies couldn’t guarantee compatibility and the Wi-Fi “n” standard has been years in the making. Chip companies have argued over the terms of the standard, including a infamous fight between Airgo and several companies about the definition of MIMO (multiple input, muliple output) and trade goups looking to speed up the approval process like the Enhanced Wireless Consortium.
Companies have been working hard on getting the standard out, as the “802.11n” will gradual replace all previous Wi-Fi versions. Instat says only 3.6% of total wireless LAN chip shipments were for “draft n” in 2006, but by mid-2008 over 50% of shipments will be for 802.11n — in that year In-Stat predicts there will be 195 million 802.11n chipsets shipments in 2008.
As the standard becomes a reality, it’s only a matter of time before the likes of Apple, Netgear, Belkin, Linksys, Buffalo, and D-Link start to ship certified 802.11n hardware, making buying one — even an Airport Extreme — a simple enough decision.