24 July 2009

The End Of The Beginning: The Final Ratification Of The 802.11n Standard

The long-awaited ratification of the high-speed 802.11n standard is slated to happen in mid-September. And the ramifications are both large and small.

Large in the sense that many enterprises have held back from deploying 802.11n until the standard is formally ratified. The reason? Fear of incompatibility between products compliant with the Draft 2.0 pre-standard and those built to meet the final standard.

Small because Draft 2.0 802.11n was already the de facto standard. In order to ameliorate concerns about potential incompatibilities, the Wi-Fi Alliance last year stated that interoperability was a given between products adhering to the draft and final versions of the standard. The September 2009 ratification will simply render that pronouncement prescient, with the draft morphing into the de jure standard with no significant changes to mandatory specifications.

When implemented "correctly," 802.11n is the first wireless technology that not only gives Ethernet a run for its money, it wins the skirmish, battle, and war. I say correctly because there are wide variations among vendors in how 802.11n channels and bands are managed, the impact of legacy 802.11a/b/g clients, the performance of densely deployed clients, and how secure 802.11n networks can be made against attack.

Wire-like reliability, harmonious client interoperability, exceptional throughput, and military-grade security are all possible – but none is assured. Not without additional engineering built on top of the 802.11n standard.

So to paraphrase Churchill, with the ratification of the 802.11n standard we’ve at last reached the end of the beginning. With the standard in place the impetus will now be on end users to validate vendors’ claims about reliability, interoperability, performance, and security. Conduct bake-offs, put equipment through its paces, ensure the veracity of claimed features and benefits. The results will open your eyes to the realization that the ratification of a standard is just the beginning of the real work.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Aruba is making 802.1n realize its full potential, please see the white paper
ARM Yourself to Increase Enterprise WLAN Data Capacity (http://bit.ly/wFj9n) and the technical brief 802.11n Client Throughput Performance (http://bit.ly/bMvT).