It's not just Intel, Atheros, Broadcom, and Marvell--but a host of firms behind a 802.11n proposal: The Enhanced Wireless Consortium comprises 27 chipmakers and equipment manufacturers including those four named chipmakers who originally seemed to split from the pack. Their new proposal for 802.11n, merging elements of TGn Sync and WWiSE, is available now. The EWC possibly has the 75-percent supermajority necessary to take any approved proposal (50-percent required for that) and accept it as the working draft that's then moved forward into ratification after details are smoothed out.
The proposal's press release includes the word "or" quite a lot, which shows the compromise. The new standard will reach raw speeds up to 600 Mbps, which would require a full implementation of most optional features--the most antennas and greatest channel bandwidth, for instance--but the baseline goal remains at least 100 Mbps of actual throughput regardless of implementation.
In an interview this afternoon, representatives from Atheros, Broadcom, Conexant, and Marvell spoke about the need to jumpstart the process of rallying around a single proposal. Bill Bunch, the director of WLAN product management at Broadcom, said, "Part of what's going on here is as a group we're staying on track." He noted, "At the end of the day, we think that there is pent-up demand to get this job done, and that arguing over technical minutiae is not what we want to do any more. We are actually forming a group that doesn't want to argue over technical minutiae."
The EWC proposal contains a lot of hooks and omits a lot of disagreement. The focus, said Dave Hedberg, senior scientist at Conexant, was on making sure that 802.11n was backwards compatible with a, b, and g, and achieved "What we've concentrated on doing is that any hooks and things that have to be in every device are there and are mandatory," Hedberg said.
For instance, a point of contention between TGn Sync and WWiSE had to do with closed-loop beamforming. In the EWC approach, beamforming is by default open, but the hooks to allow closed-loop beamforming are fully available.
TechWorld has a superb overview of the reactions primarily from MIMO-pioneer Airgo and handset maker Nokia, neither of which are part of EWC. Both companies criticize the lack of handset friendly features in the EWC proposal. Reporter Peter Judge also looks into the procedural issues around how Intel and others shopped their proposal around to other members of the group trying to integrate the two leading Task Group N proposals.
This consortium could assure that 802.11n is ratified by the end of 2006 or early 2007, but it also likely means that shipping silicon will appear sooner. There's a RAND licensing provision for members of the EWC, which ensures that everyone can cross-license intellectual property at a rate that is "reasonable."
EWC was designed to terminate itself if its functions are taken over, representatives of the companies said. This would be defined as the entire proposal being subsumed into Task Group N.
The representatives couldn't speculate whether they have the supermajority necessary for adoption of their draft by Task Group N, nor could they predict how individual voters would cast ballots because IEEE membership is by individual not by company. "We think we're building the right consensus to achieve 75-percent support," said Broadcom's Bunch.
The formation of EWC shows the ongoing dynamic between companies and the IEEE that has played out over the last few years. Companies can stack the deck by funding additional participants from their own firm, partner firms, and academia, or can be underrepresented. Over in 802.15.3b, which is developing an ultrawideband (UWB) standard, FreeScale Semiconductor is spending enough money to ensure that a supermajority can't be reached by the other participants in the standards process. Despite almost the entire rest of the industry voting with their feet by forming the Multi-Band OFDM Alliance, now subsumed into the WiMedia Alliance, 802.15.3b remains stalled.