ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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Wi-Fi Standards Development Races with Wireless Manufacturers

New York, Feb 07, 2003

The drive to expand wireless capabilities has led to an accelerated pace of standards development and some competing technology. While standards quicken market acceptance of products, some industry experts worry that some manufacturers of wireless products are moving too hastily ahead of standards development.

Developed by American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-accredited standards developer Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), IEEE 802.11, commonly known as Wi-Fi (Wireless Fidelity), is a type of radio technology used for wireless local area networks (WLANs). Wi-Fi is a way to connect computers and other electronic products to each other and to the Internet at very high speed in a wireless and cost-effective system.

Wi-Fi is composed of several standards operating in different radio frequencies: 802.11b is a standard for WLANs operating in the 2.4 GHz spectrum with a bandwidth of 11 Mbps, and is the most widely used by consumers right now. 802.11a is another standard for wireless LANs, and runs on 12 channels in the less-crowded5GHz spectrum. 802.11a transfers data up to five times faster than 802.11b, improving quality of streaming media with increased bandwidth for big files (54 Mbps). A drawback of the 802.11a technology is its incompatibility with the earlier 802.11b networks.

Millions of people and businesses have installed 802.11b networks in the past couple of years, and it has become the only standard deployed for public short-range networks, such as those found at airports, hotels, conference centers, and coffee shops and restaurants. The 802.11b standard guides the functionality of PDAs, microwave ovens and cordless phones in the crowded 2.4GHz frequency. However, a person may find interference while surfing the Web over a wireless network while using a microwave or cordless phone nearby. The 802.11a standard operates in the less-crowded 5GHz frequency, solving the interference problem. It offers better security but less range than its competitors.

Another emerging standard, 802.11g, is for WLANs operating in the same 2.4 GHz frequency as 802.11b but with a bandwidth of 54 Mbps (the same speed as 802.11a), a higher degree of security and the benefit of full interoperability with 802.11b technologies. IEEE is still working to ratify this third standard, but some manufacturers are already shipping products based on the latest (draft) version of the specification.

According to a February 7, 2003 CNET article, companies hoping to get a head start in the market are already building "dual-band" networking equipment that support 802.11a, 802.11b and 802.11g. Yet some analysts and industry experts are concerned that products using the draft 802.11g could have interoperability problems. As the technology and Wi-Fi standards development surges forward, it is clear that to avoid consumer confusion, products will need to be delivered in various combinations of compatibility for the greatest degree of interoperability.

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