April 24, 2006 6:50 PM PDT

Wi-Fi consumers cautioned to wait on new gear

Two different groups testing new wireless products based on a draft standard of next-generation Wi-Fi technology caution consumers against buying pre-standard gear.

On Monday, the Farpoint Group and the technology trade publication eWeek released results of tests conducted on new products using draft versions of the 802.11n standard. While eWeek's assessment is not nearly as negative as the analysis of the testing from the Farpoint Group, both groups said they felt it was still too soon for consumers to buy products using 802.11n.

"I've always been a harsh critic of selling equipment that is compliant with a draft," said Craig Mathias, an analyst with Farpoint Group. "But besides that I was reasonably underwhelmed in terms of the throughput and range of the draft compliant products."

eWeek was also critical of the new products.

"It is not advisable to invest in these products lock, stock and barrel," eWeek said in its article. "Enterprise-grade WLAN manufacturers continue to wait for the standard to fully bake, and enterprise customers should do the same."

The new 802.11n standard, which is expected to be finalized later this year, will allow notebook users to connect to wireless access points at much faster speeds than currently available with 802.11g technology. 802.11n will use a technology called MIMO (multiple-in, multiple-out) , which should improve the range and throughput of 802.11n products so that it can be used as a replacement for Ethernet cabling in an office and as a way to transmit video around a house without interrupted playback.

In January, the IEEE approved a draft version of 802.11n, after much controversy and infighting among chipmakers. In the last few months, several products have emerged on the market claiming to comply with the 802.11n draft.

Problems with the technology
But now that products are out in the market, groups testing draft 802.11n are finding that the technology has some problems. The Farpoint Group compared the performance and interoperability of Buffalo Technology's AirStation Nfiniti router and client, which use Broadcom's draft 802.11n Intensi-fi chipset, and both versions of Netgear's RangeMax Next client and routers, which use draft 802.11n chips from Broadcom and Marvel, with Linksys' Wireless G and SRX400 equipment.

What the Farpoint Group found during the testing was that the Linksys SRX400, which uses Airgo's third-generation MIMO technology that isn't compliant with the draft version of 802.11n, offered higher throughput at longer distances than all three of the other products tested, which used draft N technology.

The report also indicated that the "draft compliant" products did not connect at any faster speed or across any greater distance than existing 802.11g products, which typically transmit data between 20 and 24 mbps.

eWeek tested Linksys' new WRT300N Wireless-N Broadband Router and the WPC300N Wireless-N Note-book Adapter, which both use Draft 802.11n chip technology from Broadcom. The article said Linksys' draft 802.11n gear was the fastest wireless equipment at short distances the magazine had tested to date, "besting even a pair of products based on Airgo's Gen 3 True MIMO chipset."

But when it came to long distances, a key reason for developing the 802.11n standard, eWeek, like the Farpoint Group, found gear based on the draft standard fell short. eWeek said that performance at 50 feet lagged considerably when compared with the products using Airgo chips.

"I wouldn?t read too much into these early tests," said Bill Bunch, director of marketing for wireless LAN for Broadcom. "The testing we have done has gotten results more like the eWeek test."

Bunch said the true value of Broadcom's draft 802.11n technology is that it interoperates with equipment from other draft N suppliers. But the Farpoint Group found in its testing that this was not the case. Mathias said that he was unable to get equipment from Netgear and Buffalo Technology to talk to each other. What's more, he wasn't even able to get the two versions of the Netgear products to work together.

Bunch said the Farpoint Group's results are flawed.

"I can guarantee you that it's a problem with the test," he said. "I have tested this myself at home, and it works. I look at these results and can see right away something was wrong with this test."

Mathias said that companies such as Broadcom are overhyping the capabilities of their products.

"These products have not been verified by the Wi-Fi Alliance," he said. "It's all marketing right now, and it's marketing out of control."

See more CNET content tagged:
IEEE 802.11n, Airgo Networks, Broadcom Corp., throughput, MIMO


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
My advice: Don't wait!
Prices are low, I got a Belkin Pre-N Mimo and the Mimo laptop card for $166. This thing is fast!!! 108Mbs is just as fast as a wired network. I had no idea my cable modem service was so fast. It was always squelched by my B network. The range is great. I took my laptop all the way accross the street to my neighbors and the signal hardly decreased a bar. The speed is tremendous and the range is awesome. For $166 why would anyone wait? The Belkin Pre-N Mimo is fantastic. I just had to share.
Posted by locoHost (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Thanks for That Comment
Thanks for the comment, locoHost. Of course, upgrading from B to N should have shown a tremendous improvement. I experienced the same thing when I upgraded from B to G (factor of four). However, then several other networks popped up in my neighborhood and all running in proprietary channel 6 center, spread frequency modes. This has wiped out pretty much every channel, and slowed my speed to about one-third. :-(

So, here's my question: Does N take care of this? It's supposed to be optimized for multipath, high interference environments, right? Did the testers test even test that? IOW: G to N in a clean environment may not gain much, but how about G to N in a spectrally dense environment? I didn't see in the article any mention of that.

mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Link Flag
Weakest link
I'm not surprised you got a boost from B to pre-N. Your comment about the range is most interesting; many of us are curious about how far N will go and how well it handles blockage like walls, ceilings, etc.

Given that high speed internet is on the order of 1.5MB/s, it is clearly going to be the weakest link of any home network for speed. Unless you share files and other resources between computers, the biggest concern you should have with wireless is range and reception. Wireless G will certainly xmit fast enough, but too often I've encountered problems with range and certainly with walls and ceilings killing the signal faster than anything else. This article makes me think that wireless N isn't ready enough when it comes to range. Anybody willing to dispute their test results on wireless N (not Pre-N), I'd like to hear it. My experience is that a wall will kill about 30% of wireless G signal. How does wireless N fare?
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
I agree don't wait buy now.
If this is just for your home network and everyone else is waiting for standards then this means more privacy for you.

tweak your netowrk for only the "N" standard and nobody else can hijack your connection!

Posted by inachu (963 comments )
Reply Link Flag
See what happens....
....to an Un-Regulated Technology like 802.11(x). Wifi
technology as a whole is suffering from the age old adage of "To
May Chefs Spoil the Broth" syndrome. No central control, just a
forum that likes to think it's in control.

1) Standards take to long to approve and decide on by the
current Wifi panel.

2) Companies like Linksys and DLink are exploiting 802.11(x) as
well as Bluetooth Technologies to extremes that weren't meant
to be.
IE. The art of using all 11 channels to send data over a Wifi
network not only hinders the affects of your neighbors wireless;
it also puts the original wireless device at a risk of security
exploits. This in turn has an end result of leaving the consumer
at risk to future software exploits.

3) Average consumers (non-geeks) don't know what a RADIUS
server is, so don't put the option in the box. Making a sub-class
of wireless devices geared towards everyday consumers that
leave out these very option like Port Forwarding, DMZ Zone, and
Port Triggering.

Login, set wireless security, and leave! This not only slims down
the software needed to run the wireless device, it creates a
barrier of security in the software. Security that trickles down to
the end user.

4) There is a serious need for Channel Identification Software
built into the wireless devices. This software would ensure the
best channel to choose for your wireless network by scanning all
local 802.11x channels within' 1000 ft. in every direction. Noting
the channels that are in use buy your direct neighbors that WILL
affect your wireless network if you chose to be on the same
channel as your neighbors. The fore technology would ensure
that this would never happen.

5) In the case that someone want's to be on the same channel as
your wireless network, you should be informed. Because this
kind of activity is not normal unless your trying to sniff your
neighbors packets.

In that case that a neighbor is looking for trouble and I want to
know about it in the form of a pop-up window that tells me
there is somebody using the same channel on my Wifi network,
would you like to change the channel.

The above is just suggestion and should be taken with a "grain
of salt".

Posted by OneWithTech (196 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Sub Class available
Most wireless routers come with software that uses a simple wizzard to configure. Most wireless routers default to the basic settings you mention. I, for one, would not like to see all those wonderful settings for DMZ or 802.1x authentication, or MAC filter tables simply go away. Operating systems have thousands of settings that are automtically configured requiring little interaction from the user, so I can't see degrading options from that perspective. Nor can I see security improved without these features (many of which improve security if used properly). A feature that scans available channels before setting the default would be nice as there are too many out there who broadcast on channel 6... but then again, I'm enjoying my neighbors all fighting over one channel and leaving the rest free for me.
Posted by Seaspray0 (9714 comments )
Link Flag
Fantastic Stuff
I have used the Belkin Pre-N in my home for over a year to run a small (3 PC's 1 Laptop and a few other devices) home network, and felt as though I was cheating. The range is incredible, and the speed has been as good as a wired connection. I have never had difficulty communicating with other home Wi-Fi G or B devices including an HP wireless printer, XBox wireless adapters, and various laptops brought home for testing during a laptop replacement project at my work.

I couldn't be happier with my choice.
Posted by davidroll (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
i have to agree belkin pre is the best so far
ive had the belkin pre n for about a year now . the first one went bad but they were awasome. they replased it with a brand new one free of charge . now thats service. i could not be happier. i havent seen any of the official n standard routers . but i might never need to . i used to work at a gas station and my friend across the street used to broacast me a wifi with my belkin router . almost never had a problem except when someone would call my cordless 900 megaherz phone . and i used the rangemax laptop card . simply great . ive tryed 4 routers and by far the belkin is the best . i cant speak for any other of there products though .
Posted by rezzin1 (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just curious about compatibility
I just bought a new Notebook from HP with the Broadcom Pre n wireless built in. Just wondering about compatibility with the Belkin pre n router.

Any help would be appreciated.

Posted by jcbyte (1 comment )
Link Flag
N-Spec Wireless Routers
I am reading a lot of comments that state to hold off on buying the N-Spec wireless routers until the spec if finalized. Other comments I read state that this spec is still about two years away. However, most of these comments are dated at some time during 2006! I am wondering if the N-Spec wireless routers are stable at this time and if this is a good time to buy one? Does anyone have any current feedback about this? I am in need of upgrading my wireless network but I am not sure what to do at this time.
Posted by JOHNJHOME (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.