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TG Daily Top-10: Technology disappointments of 2006

#6 802.11n

Let's imagine BMW is just about ready to roll out a new 3-series sedan. Not quite ready, but close.

They have a fantastic new engine, which makes this new 3-series the best performing car in its class. Unfortunately, certain parts that are necessary to bring it up to speed have not been finalized yet. BMW decides to sell the car anyway and tells us how great the engine is - and they even agree to install the final parts, sometime in the future, if you chip in the labor. Turns out, this new beta 3-series is actually slower than the old 3-series. But BMW hopes you won't notice, slaps a "turbo-charged" badge on the trunk and a 7-series price on the sticker.

Would you buy?

Of course not.

So why is it that we apparently do buy "draft-n" wireless routers and cards?

There is very little data available how well draft-n sells and we hear occasionally that it does not sell like hotcakes. But they are being marketed and keep popping up in stores so there surely must be a market somewhere.

Look on the websites of your favorite wireless equipment maker and you'll find enticing promises, such as "4x the range and 12x the speed" (don't miss the "up to" phrase.) The problem is that 802.11n has not been approved as an official standard and the technology specification may actually change by the time that approval arrives. Several draft-n devices available can be upgraded (or exchanged), but, largely, it remains unclear how that process will work.

I have discussed this topic with my colleague Tim Higgins from SmallNetBuilder, who is one of the most knowledgeable people on networking I have met in my professional life. We both agree that it is a rather questionable move to release products that are based on such an immature draft standard. Higgins told me that based on his testing, draft 802.11n devices interfere with 802.11 b/g-based networks, plus there has been insufficient interoperability testing before the launch of draft-n products. Worst of all, draft-n really does not offer the real world performance increases it promises on the package. Head over to SmallNetBuilder to read in-depth reviews of some Wi-Fi products and you'll share my concerns.

A draft-n router

In short, don't be fooled and consider draft-n devices as the cutting edge of wireless networking. If you like to play with new technology then you'll have fun with it, no doubt. If you depend on a wireless network that just works then go with the current "802.11b/g" generation and don't purchase 802.11n devices until the standard is approved.