Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Wi-Fi Buyers, Beware N

Manufacturers of Wi-Fi access points are getting itchy. The current standard (802.11g) has been around for several years now. The market is saturated with models and the initial buying boom has passed.

Now the marketing staff at these Wi-Fi access point companies are wondering what to do. Surely something can be done to entice us into buying more of something.

That something goes by the moniker of "Pre-N" Wi-Fi access. Beware so-called Pre-N.

New standards for wireless networking is in development. Whether the new "N" standard improves life for some of us remains to be seen, but the Wi-Fi manufacturers are rolling out Pre-N versions now hoping to convince you to buy now. Out with the old; in with the new.

Notwithstanding the intense marketing hype to buy now, buying now is a very bad idea. Stick with G products. The N standards are in development and are not expected to become adopted as an industry standard until early 2008. Meantime, the Wi-Fi hardware you can now purchase labeled Pre-N offers no benefit for Mac laptops and very dubious benefits to PC users.

No standards exist today for N Wi-Fi hardware. Until such time, each manufacturer builds their own proprietary Pre-N equipment based on draft specifications. Whether or not that hardware will function when the final version of the N standard is approved is anyone's guess. The odds are not looking favorable.

According to Gartner, as quoted in vunnet.com, "vendors that market draft compliance are misleading prospects, even if they articulate what such compliance means in other documentation."

My recommendation is to stick with G-based Wi-Fi access points to ensure interoperability with existing Wi-Fi-enabled computers.

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