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Why Did 802.11n Wi-Fi Take So Long To Ratify?

by Sean P. Aune | January 10, 2010January 10, 2010 7:00 pm PST

It may be hard to believe since many people own devices that use 802.11n Wi-Fi, but that higher speed standard wasn’t made official until Sept. 2009 … a full seven years after work began on it.  Why did it take so long?  Well, we hope you like soap operas.

According to a timeline of events, the first rumblings of work began in Sept. 2002, but the official approval for work to begin came in Sept. 2003.  At that time it was known as IEEE Std 802.11-2007 as everyone in the Wi-Fi Alliance was working under the idea everything would be ready to go by 2007.  The first problems began to surface in Sept. 2004 as 32 separate and different proposals were submitted in the first round of selection.

wi-fi-alliance-logoAs Computerworld points out, the whole problem with the ratification for 802.11n came from how popular the technology was becoming with 802.11g.  The hardware was beginning to sell faster and faster, and companies were coming to realize just how much money could be made from an even faster version.  It became a game to submit the winning proposal as it could determine who would have to do the least amount of work to release equipment, and who it would be more difficult for.

As more and more battling wore on even as 2007 dawned, and a draft version of 802.11n was ready, the Wi-Fi Alliance decided to go ahead and certify Draft N devices for release.  But consumers quickly discovered that not all Draft N devices were built alike, and some did not want to work nicely with one another.  Many consumers opted to stay away from the early devices and just wait for the final build, but no one had any idea when that was coming.

In 2008 it looked like everything was set to go, all that remained was for all the involved companies to sign off on any patents that were involved saying that they would would not sue one another for use of the patents since they were essential for these devices to work.  Everyone signed save for CSIRO (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization), an Australian government research group that held a patent for wireless LANs (Local Area Networks).

Apple, Dell and other companies decided to take CSIRO to court to get their patents overturned so that 802.11n could finally go forward, but their requests were denied. All of the companies finally decided to pay up for the CSIRO patents so that the official version of the new equipment could finally roll out.

With Internet connectivity coming to every device imaginable, high-speed Wi-Fi has never been more important.  Analysts are already predicting that sales of 802.11n will dwarf those of 802.11g in no time, and by 2012 the entire industry will be somewhere in the area of $4 billion annually.

In short, it was greed that kept us from getting the faster standard when we were supposed to, and with billions of dollars at stake, anyone want to guess how long the next one will take?


Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...

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