Qualcomm promises Draft N by spring

Qualcomm has promised to deliver devices that meet the draft-802.11n Wi-Fi specification in Spring 2007.


Qualcomm has promised to deliver devices that meet the draft-802.11n Wi-Fi specification in Spring 2007 - contrary to earlier information given to Techworld.

"Products will be on the shelves, right about the time when the Wi-Fi Alliance is due to certify Draft 2.0 [of the IEEE 802.11n standard]," Airgo chief executive Greg Raleigh, who is due to become vice president of wireless connectivity at Qualcomm, when its purchase of Airgo is completed.

Airgo's Draft 2.0 chipset is already available in samples, Raleigh assured us, and would be available in products by the March-June launch of the Wi-Fi Alliance's branding programme, for Draft N products. That's about six months sooner than Qualcomm vice president Enrico Salvatori told us last week, but Salvatori must have been talking about a different product, said Raleigh.

Although Draft 2.0 of the 802.11 standard isn't complete yet, the announcement isn't premature, said Raleigh: "There's a very small amount of things being debated", so the specification it meets is already more solid than the one met by Draft 1.0 chips earlier this year, and Airgo's chip can be easily updated when Draft 2.0 solidifies further, early next year, said Raleigh. .

"We took the public position that Draft 1 was not certifiable," said Raleigh. "The Wi-Fi Alliance refused to certify Draft 1, and we took the position that when the Alliance announced certification, we would announce a product. We are ready because we bypassed Draft 1."

The Wi-Fi Alliance announced in August that it would certify Draft 2 or the most stable 1.x draft possible, staring between March and June next year. The Alliance's branding is a guarantee that products in the market will remain solid, whatever happens in the IEEE standards body: "The IEEE is ready to go once small the I's are dotted and T's are crossed. If that doesn't happen, the Wi-Fi Alliance version will force things and become the standard."

The Draft 1 specification was the result of "private specification group" said Raleigh, and had too many bugs and too many features left out. "Today, things are an order of magnitude more well defined. With a certain timeline to certify draft 2, that's a very different state of affairs."

Airgo has tested interoperability with existing Draft 1 chip products, and it will be backward compatible with them - at speeds faster than the 802.11g baseline and maybe faster than with the same-brand silicon - said Raleigh. "The key measure of performance is not just peak speed but speed at range. Our speed on either end is faster than having that same draft N product connected at both ends."

Qualcomm's purchase of Airgo stemmed from discussions between the two companies to put Draft N chips in a notebook, said Raleigh. Qualcomm needed to expand beyond its expertise in W-CDMA, and Airgo needed more backing for its Wi-Fi - or as Raleigh puts it: "Qualcomm has the best broadband, wide area and 3G technology, and Airgo has the best Wi-Fi. Qualcomm really stands behind technology development - that's what's put them in the lead."

Although Qualcomm will continue to back Airgo's standalone Draft N plans, it will also be converging the two technologies: "With the convergence of LAN and WAN, people will expect wide area networks in the PC, and the handset needs low power inexpensive Wi-Fi embedded in the chipset."

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