The IEEE approved draft 1.0 of 802.11n yesterday: The IEEE voted in January to accept a proposal--largely that of the Enhanced Wireless Consortium with some changes--as a pre-1.0 draft. That near-unanimous vote was the first step in finalizing 802.11n, which has been under discussion for years and which appeared to be heading to a deadlock. The EWC proposal was quietly built by four chipmakers--Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, and Marvell--and then sold back into a joint proposal group that was trying to harmonize competing efforts.
That work paid off given the quick approval of Draft 1.0. This first fully numbered draft had only very minor technical changes from the proposal that was accepted as the 0.1 draft in January, according to Atheros's chief technology officer Bill McFarland. In an interview this morning, McFarland said that changes were primarily to conform to IEEE editorial style, including adding detailed appendixes and some clarifying text. "The draft was evaluated by the group as being complete, technically very sound, and in shape where it could potentially be the exact final standard," McFarland said. That doesn't mean it will be adopted as is--that's very unlikely--but it has the form and detail of a final draft.
McFarland said that the proposal will now be sent out for balloting among 802.11 Working Group members for a 40-day period. Ballots will vote up or down on accepting this draft, and will bring back comments and requests for changes. In the May meeting, those changes will be discussed, and some will be adopted and others not. If all goes well, a re-ballot will happen following a similar course. In July, a final draft could win the day, which would then go on to a group of experts at a higher IEEE level who typically approve drafts--by the time they've reached this point, most technical and harmonization issues across 802 (networks) and 802.11 (wireless networks) have been settled.
Meanwhile, manufacturers will probably start firing up the silicon ovens. McFarland said that Atheros was already in sampling, and it was very encouraging that "In getting to this 1.0 draft very few technical changes needed to be made." There is a very low risk, he said, of significant changes being made before a final draft is accepted that would require changes in silicon.
Inertia will set in, too, because so many chipmakers already are sampling or showing 802.11n designs to their customers. "As time goes on, all the major silicon providers have begun work on it so they prefer more and more there not be changes," McFarland said.
Atheros is sampling draft 802.11n chips now. "We expect that you'll be able to see products on the store shelves certainly by the middle of this year implementing this 1.0 draft," McFarland said. Changes to the spec would be handled through firmware upgrades.
Update: There's some dispute over Atheros's characterization; more on this on Monday.