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Wi-Fi 802.11a testing plan finally set

The Wi-Fi Alliance, the standards group formerly known as the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), last week finally disclosed plans for the long-awaited certification testing process of 802.11a products for Wi-Fi interoperability.

The 802.11a spec is the high-speed wireless LAN standard for the 5GHz band. It specifies eight available radio channels, uses orthogonal frequency division multiplexing (OFDM) and supports data rates up to 54Mbps.

The Wi-Fi Alliance began interoperability testing of 802.11b-based products in March 2000. Insiders note that 802.11b, the specification that is actually called ''Wi-Fi,'' is the WLAN standard for 2.4GHz band. It uses high-rate DSS and supports data rates of up to 11Mbps, and specifies three available radio channels. Most wireless LAN installations today comply with 802.11b. The Wi-Fi Alliance estimates that there are currently more than 450 Wi-Fi certified products in a broad range of platforms and applications on the market today, according to alliance leaders.

WLAN products based on 802.11a have been shipping since late 2001. According to the Alliance, it was the availability of products that allowed the organization to develop an interoperability ''benchmark'' test bed, which is the reference all products are tested against. There are currently four access points and five station cards, from seven different manufacturers, based on three different chipsets in the ''benchmark'' test bed. Products that pass the certification will be granted the new ''Wi-Fi CERTIFIED'' label.

The new Wi-Fi seal of approval will show clearly whether the certified device operates in the 2.4GHz band at 11Mbps using 802.11b, or in the 5GHz band at 54Mbps using 802.11a, or both. The label will not mention the designations of the standards ('802.11b' or '802.11a'), but only the band and transfer rate.

Because ''Wi-Fi'' originally referred to 802.11b products, the Alliance had planned to label certified 802.11a products with the designation ''Wi-Fi5,'' but members worried that the use of ''Wi-Fi'' for both standards might confuse users into believing the two were compatible.

Officials said 802.11a and dual-band products currently under testing will be required to carry the label; already-certified 802.11b products will have until January 2004 to adopt and display the new label.

The Wi-Fi certification testing will begin Nov. 29 at the organization's San Jose, Calif.-based interoperability testing laboratory. The laboratory will begin accepting products into the testing queue on Friday (Oct. 18), according to officials.

The three-year-old Alliance announced its name change a week earlier. ''Wi-Fi has become such a globally recognized brand, and it is time that the organization's name becomes consistent with the brand that it promotes,'' said alliance chairman Dennis Eaton. ''When the Wi-Fi Alliance was founded in late August of 1999, no one ever dreamed that Wi-Fi would take off to the level that it has. Now, it only makes sense that the name of the organization reflects the brand that the world has come to know.''

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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