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July 17, 2006

Dell Joins Draft N Delusion

Dell will offer Broadcom-based Draft N adapter as built-to-order notebook option: The "Dell Wireless 1500 draft-802.11n dual-band wireless card" will use the Intesi-fi technology that Broadcom has developed in advance of an industry-approved standard for 802.11n. Broadcom isn't alone, but I'm stunned that Dell will  sign onto this at this stage. The upgrade costs $59. (Acer will ship a Q3 laptop with Draft N built in, The Register reports.)

The press release from Broadcom states, "Broadcom Intensi-fi technology complies with the current IEEE 802.11n draft specification and is available in a variety of draft-802.11n routers, including those from Linksys, NETGEAR and Buffalo." There is no way to comply with a draft specification of this sort. It's an early draft, likely to change, and there's no one outside of the firms trying to push this early Draft N gear who believes it's a good idea to write one's name in water.

The Broadcom press release also states, "Intensi-fi solutions are also interoperable with draft-802.11n technology from other chipmakers." Yeah, right. In certain testing which belies most of the magazine lab tests of the technology. What's the brand promise behind this statement? What happens if a competitors updates their firmware, and interoperability fails? This is why the Wi-Fi mark works--stable standards, independent lab testing, and the possibility of failing tests--and this kind of standards-by-marketing committee fails.

This is making me slightly ill as I see companies rush to push something out that nobody needs. Regular MIMO on the market provides the distance boost that's really at the crux. The rest of this Draft N technology could patiently wait until the standard is done.

I reiterate that no manufacturer I'm aware of is willing to promise that equipment they release today will be fully upgradable and interoperable with the final, release 802.11n specification even if they have to swap out hardware. Without that promise in place, they're selling what could turn into expensive paperweights that offer minimal functional improvements at excessive cost compared to what final, shipping, interoperable, certified products will provide in probably no more than six months.

Wait, I say, wait.

A Dell spokesperson provided a clear statement that I believe is frank and fair to my question as to whether Dell would offer upgrades if hardware were required. Dell said,

"Dell felt there was compelling value for our customers in the current draft standard, in terms of range and throughput, to justify releasing a product based on the draft.

"Although the Dell Wireless 1500 is fully compliant to the current draft and several elements of the draft will be incorporated into the final standard, Dell cannot guarantee upgradeability to the final standard. Regardless of final upgradeability, the Dell Wireless 1500 card will continue to perform at throughput rates and ranges superior to 802.11g, when paired with Draft 802.11n routers with the Intensi-fi technology, and provide customers with the ability for multiple users to use high-bandwidth wireless applications throughout the home.

"Also note, the Dell Wireless 1500 Draft 802.11n card is backwards compatible with 802.11 a/b/g wireless standards, so users will always be able to access these wireless networks no and in the future."

This is well stated. There is nothing misleading or incorrect in this response. However, I don't believe that any Dell customer should purchase what is essentially a beta or pre-release item that cannot be guaranteed upgradability. But I appreciate that Dell isn't overhyping the product.

You can always read more about 802.11n and MIMO and MIMO+N Networking News.


How far away do you think we are from a ratified N standard? 1 year? Longer?

[Editor's note: Ratification -- a year. A real standard that's fixed enough to put into silicon and expect only firmware updates -- I can't see it now before November, maybe January. It's still possible that today's silicon will certify out just fine to the ratified standard. The problem is uncertainty.

If today's silicon works, will I be seen as a Chicken Little? I hope not, as I am not stating that today's silicon will be a dead on. Rather, there's no way to be sure it isn't and manufacturers aren't guaranteeing hardware upgrades in case it is, thus they don't believe 100 percent that it's not a dead end, either. If they did, they'd just offer free upgrades because they wouldn't have to fulfill that promise.--gf]

People are willing to pay for buggy software that has no warranty, so why not hardware? Maybe before long vendors will allow us to buy beta processors and hard disks as well. :-)

What if I can not wait? What if I need better speeds and range that a standard G router can not provide? Should I buy an older proprietary MIMO-G solution, that is guaranteed to NEVER to be upgraded to an 11-N standard?

Or do I get the performance I need with a Wireless-N router with the possibility of upgradeability for the same cost? Also this option has the ability to interoperate with new laptops with internal draft 11-N, such as Dell and Acer.

Wait if you like and just suffer with any wireless issues you may have with older 11g technology. But if you need the better performance go Wireless-N. It's the smarter choice for the future!

[Editor's Note: This is a valid question. I just don't know anyone who needs the speed so badly (and not just range) that they must pay the price premium to buy Draft N. The MIMO gear that's 802.11g-based is substantially cheaper, and, in testing, has a range that's competitive with early Draft N releases.

If you desperately need high throughput, are willing to pay the price premium, and are willing to bet that the devices will be upgradable--oh, and suffer through early firmware flaws that are widely reported, too--then Draft N is a reasonable choice.

I can't find anyone who fits into that camp. Gigabit Ethernet is so cheap, that for most purposes, running a long Ethernet cable and getting something like 700 Mbps to 800 Mbps in real throughput is a distinct advantage over being close enough to a Draft N device to achieve its highest speed of about 150 Mbps of real throughput.--gf]

Task Group N inside IEEE 802.11 need not ignore the presence of "Draft N" (and yes, I have heard "Daft N" already) devices in the world. Mightn't they exercise some restraint in their changes in a way that at least maintains interoperability?

Even if today's silicon can never conform to the final 802.11n standard once it's ready, TGn could almost certainly arrange it so that the stuff would still work. (Perhaps using some optional mode of operation.)

Despite appearances to the contrary, TGn is doing their work in a manner that has the ultimate goal of pleasing customers and making everybody a lot of money. Breaking the first wave of "Draft N" products is incommensurate with that goal.

[Editor's Note: I have to argue against this point. Draft N is not only not a standard, but it is not being implemented consistently or interoperably by chipmakers. Thus, not "breaking" Draft N means that the Task Group N members have to join the delusion that there's a monolithic standard already in the market that they would break by simply finishing their work.--gf]

I have a Belkin Pre-N router and have used it for almost a year. Now my latest Dell laptop comes in with the draft n wireless and I can't connect to my wireless network at all, it times out no matter what my settings are when trying to connect(open security, wpa-psk). Thank you Dell, I have already order my new Belkin pre n card for the laptop.

Hey Guys, Don't be discouraged by the Draft N from Dell. I recently purchased my Dell (XPS M1210) with the Draft N, and I must say it is fully functional.
I have the N router from D-Link, and my laptop connects to it just perfectly. Now, with the N router, and the connection I have with wireless varies at times. I my speed ranges from 81 Mbps to 270 Mbps. Frankly, I am very happy with my decision. Now with the issue of the Belkin router, I have no idea, and anyways, I don't find Belkin to be as reliable as D-Link (Linksys is okay)... (I don't know, I only like D-Link because I have had good experiences with them)

I am running a Dell Inspiron E1705 with Broadcom's Draft N 1500 Wireless mini PCI Card. My router is a Linksys WRT300N. I consistently connect at 270 mbps. I am very pleased with the performance. It far exceeds our other notebook that is equipped with wireless G.