How Will Users Be Able To Differentiate 11n from 11n?

In the past, things were pretty much clear when it came to Wireless LAN performance. If the box in the shop said it’s an 802.11g device, users could pretty much assume the device would do 54 MBit/s on the physical layer and application layer speed would be around 20 MBit/s. Things are much less clear with the new Draft 802.11n standard, which contains a myriad of options a device may or may not implement.

The standard for example contains three different flavors of MIMO. The most popular one, MIMO spatial multiplexing will be implemented in many devices. But the standard gives devices the option to use 2, 3 or 4 transceivers/antennas. The more receivers, the higher the speed, if of course the receiver has at least as many. O.k. one might be able to sell this story in a fashion like "We do 4×4 MIMO compared to the competition which only does 2×2, so we are twice as fast".

The story doesn’t end there, however. There are two other MIMO modes, namely MIMO beamforming and MIMO STBC (Space Time Block Code) which can significantly enhance range and link stability. It just might turn out that these MIMO modes are just as important for applications such as video streaming to devices that are not close to the Wifi Access Point. Ruckus wireless for example is doing interesting things in this area.

And it certainly doesn’t end here. Draft 802.11n contains further options like multimedia power save (PSMP), shorter OFDM guard intervals, Antenna selection, Maximum Ratio combining, Modulation and Coding Scheme (MCS) feedback, etc. etc. In the end, marketing words on boxes in the electronics store are cheap. Let’s see, how about the Wifi Alliance coming up with something standardized about "enhanced 11n options"? Time will tell.