As 802.11n standard arrives, Apple updates its Airport

The promise of a new wireless standard has companies like Apple trotting out routers that put them right in line to tap into the upcoming ultra-fast and super-wide-ranging 802.11n standard.According to Eduardo Kibel, an industry analyst with the mobile communications group of Toronto-based Frost & Sullivan Canada, the former wireless standard, 802.11g, only had 54MB per second, while the new standard will boast a speed of 270MB per second and an increased range of 330 feet, from the previous standard’s 165 ft. “We’ll see five times the throughput and twice the range – that’s the big deal with the new standard,” said Willi Powell, Apple Canada’s strategic development manager. The new 802.11n-compatible devices will be well-suited to things like broadband television and video streaming, he said, as they can run on the new 5.8 GHz frequency in addition to the overcrowded 2.4 GHz frequency.

While this sounds like a dream come true to high-speed Internet enthusiasts, the new standard is still being finalized. The IEEE Working Group first submitted their new standard to IEEE’s governing body in March 2006, but it was rejected. “Draft 2.0 of the IEEE 802.11n standard was ratified in January 2007. This was a very good step for the standard’s progress, since Draft 2.0 is a solid version of what the final 802.11n standard will look like,” said Gemma Tedesco, a senior analyst in cellular and wireless broadband component technologies with the Scottsdale, Arizona-based In-Stat. The standard is expected to be published in May of 2009, according to Kibel.

Apple, with its Airport Extreme base station, isn’t the only company to get the jump on rolling out a 802.11n-compatible devices; Tedesco said that companies like Cisco, D-Link, Netgear, Buffalo, Belkin, and TrendNet started selling products based on draft 1.0 of the 802.11n standard last fall.

According to Tedesco, “Vendors’ initial goal with the early ‘draft n’ products is to be able to provide 40 to 50MB per second of real throughput. The standard itself is claiming to provide for 50MB to 200-plus MB per second of throughput. This may be reachable in future iterations of products.”

Kibel speculates that the Apple station will be quite popular with small and mid-sized businesses, though, for several reasons. The Airport Extreme base station, for example, can also hold a USB hard drive. Previous models of the base stations, said Kibel, allowed the user to connect a printer to the device. “That way, the IT (person) could just go and pick up the drive to back-up instead of having to go check out each machine,” said Kibel. Powell said, “It acts as a little mini file server.”

It also only has one antenna that is tucked away, while, for instance, D-Link’s DIR-655n has three, making for an unsightly, unwieldy station, Kibel said. “It’s very compact and doesn’t show off too much,” he said, pointing out the benefit for the space-poor offices of small and mid-sized businesses.

Smaller IT departments could also benefit from the ease-of-use (Powell claims that it can be set up in five minutes) and the backward compatibility with the 802.11a standard that is commonly used in office environments.

But don’t look for businesses to rush into anything, according to Tedesco. “On the enterprise side, businesses aren’t really that comfortable deploying WLAN equipment until the standard is formally ratified, so enterprise is not set to adopt 802.11n on a large scale until (a later) timeframe,” she said.

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