"Pre-N" Wireless - Boom or Bust?

Rarely is new technology dead before it even exists, but "pre-N" wireless may be headed in that direction. Can something this neat be simply a marketing gimmick? If so why have so many companies released "pre-N" wireless gear?

On the surface, "pre-N" sounds great. Engineers discovered they could use a technology called MIMO (multiple input/multiple output) to greatly enhance the range and speed of wireless networking. MIMO divides a signal into several data streams, and the receivers can use multiple antennae to receive several copies of the data, which is checked for errors and recombined. The new technology promises three to four times faster networking speeds; more than that for long distances.

The problem? The 802.11n wireless specification does not exist yet! Scheduled to be ratified in 2006, the likelihood for change is high. This is why this gear is labeled "pre-N" - it probably will not work with 802.11n-compatible equipment.

The other issue early adopters must consider is a lack of compatibility between vendors. One must buy all wireless networking equipment from the same company. In practice this is not a bad idea anyway, as even with 802.11g many vendors claim a dramatic speed boost if their hardware is used on both ends of the connection. However down the road next year's new laptop may not work with a "pre-N" access point.

With all the confusing standards for current wireless technology, it is unfortunate some vendors feel the need to push forward with nonstandard hardware. This will undoubtedly create more confusion in the marketplace. However, with the voracious consumer appetite for wireless speed, there is obviously a market, meaning someone will tap it.

January 2005

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