Vendors Take Wireless to the Nth Degree

SMC Networks and ZyXEL promise faster and farther-reaching Wi-Fi performance with new draft 802.11n-compliant wireless networking products.
Posted October 20, 2006

Dan Muse

The lack of an official, ratified standard isn't slowing the stream of 802.11n wireless products. Even though the current draft specification isn't expected to be voted on by the IEEE until January, vendors continue to ship products to meet what they say is growing demand for greater wireless throughput.

Draft 802.11n products promise speeds substantially faster than 802.11g and 802.11b products — up to 300Mbps is the claim. It will also allow signals to travel over greater distances thanks largely to MIMO technology. In addition to improving speed, distance and bandwidth, 802.11n is designed to offer backward and cross-vendor compatibility with 802.11b/g wireless products.

Entering the 802.11n fray today is SMC Networks with a new line of wireless networking products that comply with the draft 802.11n standard for wireless networking.

The newest SMC Networks wireless products are best-suited for demanding applications such as high-definition video streaming, file sharing and VoIP, according to Tony Stramandinoli, vice president of marketing at SMC.

Do businesses run a risk by buying draft 802.11n products? While the wireless industry says it is trying to minimize that possibility, the short answer is yes. Although the products have a better chance of being upgradeable to the final standard than pre-draft products, the situation remains unsettled. "We expect the draft [to be ratified] in early 2007. But there are two competing approaches and no guarantees," Stramandinoli said.

The competing standards Stramandinoli refers to are those from chipmakers Broadcom and Atheros. While the official standard is still on the horizon, today's draft 802.11n products stand a better chance of future interoperability than earlier 802.11n products, Stramandinoli said. "Some of our competitors had pre-draft products out a year-and-a-half ago. We waited until N was in draft mode."

Stramandinoli said the 802.11n products are better-suited to the small-office, home-office market. "They are less concerned with standards and more concerned about performance." 802.11n is particularly applicable for streaming files, VoIP and other bandwidth-intensive applications, he said.

According to SMC, the new products are capable of achieving data transfer rates 25 times faster than the standard 802.11b devices and five times the rate of 802.11g. However, the new SMC draft 802.11n networking products still maintain backward compatibility with 802.11b/g wireless networks, whether built on SMC's or other vendors' products, according to SMC.

The company said that the new SMC draft 802.11n wireless networking products are easy to set-up, but difficult to hack thanks to its EZ Installation Wizard, push-button wireless security and WPA2 encryption.

SMC's 802.11n draft products include the following: The SMC7904WBRA-N ADSL2+ Modem Router has four Ethernet ports and is designed to combine support for the new ADSL2+ technology with the throughput offered by draft 802.11n wireless communication. It also offers an integrated SPI Firewall to provide for high-performance, security and other key end user features that ensure ease of use.

The company's Broadband router (the SMCWBR14-N) combines the features of the aforementioned Modem Router with a broadband router and a built-in draft 802.11n/b/g access point. For the client-side, SMC's new EZ Connect N PCI and CardBus adapters (SMCWPCI-N and SMCWCB-N) are designed to offer security, management and throughput for easy wireless client connections via draft 802.11n, b and g. SMC said the products will be available this quarter. Pricing information was not available.

ZyXEL Gets Gets in on the N Act
Last Thursday, Anaheim, Calif.-based ZyXEL Communications also announced a new series of Draft 802.11n-compliant wireless networking products.

ZyXEL's MIMO-N product line is designed to offer better throughput and extended range to provide consistent connectivity throughout the LAN. ZyXEL said it MIMO-N series is a natural extension of its existing XtremeMIMO product line and is the first series of products based on Enhanced Wireless Consortium (EWC) Draft 802.11n technology.

The EWC was formed to help accelerate the IEEE 802.11n development process and to promote a technology specification for interoperability of next-generation wireless WLAN products. The goal of the 27-member coalition is to accelerate the IEEE 802.11n standard development process and to promote a technology specification for next-generation WLAN products.

ZyXEL's MIMO-N series includes the NBG-415N Wireless Broadband Router, the NWD-170N Wireless Cardbus Adapter for laptops and the NWD-370N Wireless PCI Adapter for desktops.

The product line is based on the Atheros Draft 802.11n XPAN chipset. The NWD-370N comes with one 5dBi and two 2dBi removable antennas and the NBG-415N is packaged with three 2dBi removable antennas, according to the company. The draft 11n Wireless and MIMO Smart Antenna technology are designed to pinpoint the best method for connecting with a client. This is designed to increase performance, eliminate dead zones and increase range and throughput speeds over wireless networks.

In addition, the MIMO-N Wireless Broadband Router also features a USB port for Windows Connect Now (WCN). WCN is a technology designed to make it easy to set up a wireless network and add devices. Introduced with XP Service Pack 2, WCN is designed to make it easy to add new wireless devices, such as digital media players and printers, to an existing wireless network or to create a new network.

ZyXEL says that the new router uses Ubicom's StreamEngine technology, which is built to prioritize applications in order to reduce latency and boost network efficiency. It also offers Pure Networks' Network Magic management software.

ZyXEL reports that the family of MIMO-N products will be available at the end of the month. Suggested retail pricing for the product line is as follows: $159.99 for the Wireless Broadband Router (NBG-415N), $99.99 for the Wireless Cardbus Adapter (NWD-170N) and $119.99 for the Wireless PCI Adapter (NWD-370N).

N Stand for Notebooks
Thursday, Lenovo announced that its new Thinkpad will offer integrated 802.11n connectivity. In July, Dell announced the availability of 802.11n support in its Inspiron notebook line.

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