Airgo said today that its MIMO technology has been approved by governments for use around the globe: MIMO stands for multiple in multiple out and describes a technology that can boost the capacity and coverage area of wireless networks. The future 802.11n standard will be based on MIMO.
Airgo was able to receive global governmental approvals within six months, an unusually short amount of time, said Greg Raleigh, president and chief executive officer for Airgo. The approval process involves working with governmental regulatory bodies to explain how the technology works and then executing tests to ensure that the technology won't interfere with other devices. Such approvals mean that products can be legally used in the countries that have approved them, but it is separate from any standardization or association certification process.
Belkin recently introduced commercial products using chips from Airgo. The vendor has become the center of some criticism for using the term "Pre-N" to describe the new products. Shortly after the introduction of the products, the Wi-Fi Alliance released a statement encouraging members not to use the term "IEEE 802.11n" in association with any certified product and threatened to repeal certification of products using the term if the product interferes with other certified products. The 802.11n standard isn't expected to be ratified for another two years, according to the alliance.
However, the alliance certified Belkin's new "Pre-N" product because it complies with 802.11b and 802.11g. The alliance won't kick members out of the association for using the term and won't withhold certification unless the product interferes with other certified products but it will try to use its influence to encourage members not to use such terms. "Our take on 'pre-' is it's not good for the industry because it can confuse consumers," said Brian Grimm, a spokesman for the Wi-Fi Alliance. "Confused consumers won't buy." He worries that customers will buy products that are labeled "pre-802.11n" from different vendors and expect them to interoperate. When they don't, they'll return the products.
Airgo doesn't use the term "pre-802.11n" but doesn't see any reason to be concerned with the use of the term. "We think it's a fair marketing method," said Raleigh. He notes that the use of MIMO is the only component of the 802.11n standard that is certain. "Belkin is very straightforward in how they market. They don't say it's 11n compatible," he said. "I think it's a real stretch to say it's a misleading message."
He suggests that the companies that haven't yet released higher-speed products might be the ones saying that the 802.11n moniker is misleading. "It's clear that consumers are willing to pay for higher reliability and the ability to connect to Wi-Fi throughout their house. That's what this offers that other Wi-Fi doesn't. That's tough to compete with and has a lot of people stirred up," he said.
But some experts are critical of vendors that use the "pre-" designation. "If you buy something that's 'pre-11n' the assumption is that it's 11n at some point. That at some point it can be upgraded. I think that's misleading," said Ken Dulaney, analyst at Gartner Research. Because the standard is several years from ratification, it's unlikely that current products can easily be upgraded to comply with the final form of 802.11n.
Dulaney suggests that a company could use a wide variety of other marketing terms to describe a faster product, such as terms that include the number that describes the throughput speeds. "There are so many other marketing terms they could use, so why are they picking that? Clearly it's because they want to use that term to mislead people," he said.