While the delivery of draft 802.11n products may be controversial, Broadcom has shown that its Intesi-fi draft 802.11n fast wireless chip set works — and promised it would upgrade to the standard.
At the Wireless Event in London this week, the company showed a Buffalo access point achieving 120Mbit/s actual throughput, supporting two TV streams, one of which was high definition.
"It will be a firmware upgrade to full 802.11n," said Gordon Lindsay, Broadcom's European wireless product manager. "This is the softest wi-fi chip set Broadcom ever made." As you would expect, he was confident that any changes to the fast wi-fi standard, between draft and completion, would be small.
No enterprise vendor — or user — is going to take that on trust at this stage, but one enterprise vendor, Bluesocket, has at least launched a MIMO access point, using the Airgo MIMO chip set which is well proven in the market, but less likely to upgrade to 802.11n, in its ‘Super Signal’ enterprise access point. According to Ian Philip, Bluesocket's general manager Europe, the Middle East and Africa, the upgrade will be a simple matter of replacing a mini-PCI card in the access point.
Lindsay was not impressed: "Are they really proposing users replace a PCI card? They're fragile."
Unlike the Bluesocket access point, Broadcom's Intensi-fi is intended for consumer products at first, to be included in wi-fi phones, storage drives, set-top boxes, broadband modems, TVs, hi-fi games consoles and cameras. In these situations, an upgrade may not even be necessary, as long as the product is doing its job.
Surprisingly future developments beyond the first 802.11n products may involve technology which seemed to have been superceded — the multiple-antenna BeamFlex technology from Ruckus was used in Netgear's popular RangeMax products, but is being phased out in favour of Airgo, which will in turn be replaced by draft n chip sets.
Although Ruckus was sold as MIMO, it isn't — and could be compatible with 802.11n systems, adding still further to their range and throughput over distance. "We could add multiple antennas," said Lindsay.
"802.11n needs what we have," agreed David Callisch, director of marketing at Ruckus Networks. "802.11n isn't directional."
Around 80 access points were vying for the three non-overlapping 2.4GHz channels, in the Olympia exhibition centre, according to consultant Michael Hijdra of 2fast4wireless, who was managing wireless security on the show. Broadcom therefore performed its demo at a conference room in the Hilton Hotel. There were occasional spikes of interference which reduced the throughput and, while these appeared to coincide with mealtimes, they didn't follow microwave oven characteristics.