Wireless - N - for Not Ready
Wide bandwidth applications like HDTV and Voice over IP communications have created demand for faster wireless networks in the home. According to one wireless advisory group called Farpoint, products are arriving to store shelves before they're ready to be released.
Linksys released products based on the latest word in high speed wireless communications: the protocol known as 802.11n or also by its street name Wireless-N. The new protocol will increase speeds far above familiar wireless protocols like 802.11g, the current speed king of wireless.
Last January the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) agreed on the 802.11n proposal but hadn't completed finalizing the protocol. Tests of early 802.11n products have revealed problems with interoperability between products from different manufacturers. In other words, buy the first 802.11n router and it might not work with other 802.11n lan cards, routers or other wireless-compatible products from other manufacturers.
The group that's responsible for certifying equipment that uses a Wi-Fi standard is called the Wi-Fi Alliance. They haven't yet developed tests for Wireless-N interoperability between products. The new devices by Linksys are an example of some of the early Wireless-N equipment that might not really be ready. Because they're not really Wirless-N, at this early stage in development they can only be called "draft N" compliant at best.
Encounter at Farpoint
Last month Belkin, Buffalo Technology, D-Link, Linksys and Netgear all released routers that were "draft N compliant". This means there is no assurance that "draft N" will translate to true 802.11n compatibility when the standard is finalized.
The Farpoint Group are a wireless technology advisory that recently tested the current crop of "draft N" products. The results were not promising. "Draft N" routers by Buffalo and Netgear couldn't communicate with each other.
"These products don't perform as well as some products that have been out here for awhile…" Farpoint stated, concluding that early product was pushed out too soon "…to capitalize on 802.11n draft hysteria." It's possible that compatibility problems could be resolved with future firmware and software upgrades but there are no guarantees.
It's probably best for consumers to wait for products with full Wireless-N or 802.11n compliance to be released. Being the first on your block with the latest technologies usually means you've overspent. Linksys's parent Company Cisco sells communications equipment for professional applications and big businesses, while Linksys is strictly for the home market. When Cisco starts dealing in 802.11n you can bet it'll be a complete protocol. Cisco will be far more conservative with products that ship.