The twist? This time, wires are involved: The Wi-Fi Alliance is poised to provide certification for a quietly developed flavor of 802.11--one so quietly developed that its true implications weren't understood, and few impediments were put in its way, such as internecine squabbling over esoteric details. The new flavor, 802.11af, will be ratified as Wi-Fi Over Ethernet (WoE), an unfortunate acronym that shouldn't bode poorly for the standard's future. (It's probably better they opted against Wi-Fi over Wires, WoW, which many geeks would have confused with World of Warcraft.)
Wi-Fi over Ethernet combines electromagnetic resonance--the ability of a EMF to excite signals in wires--with excess wired capacity in a manner similar to how broadband over powerline works. Where properly equipped 802.11af Ethernet switches and adapters are available, coupled with WOE-capable Wi-Fi systems, the Wi-Fi signals will simply be picked up and carried by the Ethernet network. Switching and transmission then become limited to the extent of the wired network--which will improve throughput and range. (A future standard might allow passive powering of lightweight devices from Ethernet, which is a neat reversal.)
This is in the same category of new convergent standards such as Bluetooth over 802.11 and FireWire (IEEE 1394) over IEEE 741-2007: ways to provide better specs on one standard by combining it with another that has a complementary purpose.
Now, of course, modern computing systems tend to include gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi, so why do we need a third modality that combines the two? Partly because of new devices like the MacBook Air and smartphones like BlackBerrys with Wi-Fi built in. Without an Ethernet adapter, the range of these devices can be limited, and throughput restricted.
You were waiting for the magic number: How fast is WoE? Nearly 1600 Mbps raw speed, and about 30 Mbps of raw throughput. Before you scoff, remember that you might be able to use WoE over hundreds of meters across a switched Ethernet network, where a Wi-Fi signal might stretch just a hundred or two hundred feet. If Wi-Fi beats WoE, a computer will use Wi-F.
The Wi-Fi Alliance hasn't set the date of their certification yet, but I'm told it will happen any day. The mark will be added to the list of A, B, G, Draft N, WMM Power Save, and other symbols, as AF. The industry is considering a campaign around the phrase, "WoE is me(tm)!" trying to capture the excitement of the new synergy. Again, unfortunate acronym.
The IEEE has finalized and approved a draft, but final ratification isn't expected until 1 April 2009.