It's Official: IEEE Ratifies 802.11n

By  Susan Nunziata — September 13, 2009

Your kid's probably already using it. Many institutes of higher education have deployed it. A slew of laptops already support it. And now, at long last, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has officially ratified the 802.11n WLAN standard.

While healthcare organizations and universities, in particular, have already been moving ahead with 802.11n deployments, industry observers tell us that many enterprises were hesitant to deploy until the final standard was ratified. Now, the expectation is that WLAN deployments will increase in the enterprise space as well.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)  announced September 12, 2009 that its Standards Board has ratified the IEEE 802.11n-2009 amendment, defining mechanisms that provide significantly improved data rates and ranges for wireless local area networks (WLANs).

In anticipation of the ratification, Bryant University in Smithfield, RI, upgraded its Cisco campuswide WLAN to 802.11n this summer.

The university had first deployed its Cisco Unified Wireless Network in 2004 and was already planning an upgrade when it decided to go with 802.11n. "When we started to investigate the 'n' standard we decided we could probably achieve greater results if we just did a one-for-one swap-out of our a/b/g radios for radios with the the 'n' radios," says Rick Siedzik, the university's Director of Computer & Telecommunications Services. "We could do that within the budgeting dollars that we had."

Siedzik says the process of upgrading nearly 400 access points on campus was fairly straightforward. The APs were configured using automated tools from Cisco and the university's cabling contractor handled the actual swap-outs. some of the older 802.11 a/b/g APs were kept in spotty coverage areas even as the 802.11n APs were added into the mix.

Siedzik says students these days have high expectations for their campus wireless offerings. "What we see from our users is that they want more wireless enabled applications," he says. "A lot of those applications require faster throughputs, and that was one reason for going to 'n.' Another reason was a higher concentration of users on that access point that could be supported. The third reason was better predictability with those wireless connections. We are seeing better coverage, better throughput, better predictability and better reliability with those connections."

The new amendment to the IEEE 802.11 base standard is designed to help the data communications industry address the escalating demands placed on enterprise, home and public WLANs with the rise of higher-bandwidth file transfers and next-generation multimedia applications.

October 2009 will mark the second anniversary of Morrisville State College's campus-wide 802.11n deployment, which covers about 43 buildings and 1.9  million square feet. Working in partnership with IBM Global Services, the 3,300-student college -- part of the State University Of New York -- deployed an 802.11n WLAN from Meru Networks.

The school has seen peak usage of 1,500 people simultaneously on its wireless network. Morrisville now has about 700 802.11n access points deployed and will have a total of 800 APs on campus by the time new construction is completed in 2010.

"We've had a mindset change on our campus on the technology side of things," says Morrisville CIO Jean Boland. "Before, when we built new buildings or did renovations, we always put in [wired ethernet] ports because that was what you were supposed to do. And then we would think,  'ok, where would we like wireless in addition?' Now, we say we're going to have wireless, do we need to put in any [wired ethernet] ports at all? It's a total mind shift in terms of planning purposes. [That's because] 802.11n is wicked fast. It really makes you rethink, do you need a [wired] port, and do you need the cost of putting in a [wired] port?"

The IEEE's 560-page 802.11n amendment -- "WLAN Enhancements for Higher Throughput"1 -- will enable rollout of significantly more scalable WLANs that deliver tenfold-greater data rates than previously defined, while ensuring co-existence with legacy systems and security implementations.

More than 400 individuals from equipment and silicon suppliers, service providers, systems integrators, consultant organizations and academic institutions from more than 20 countries participated in a seven-year effort leading to IEEE 802.11n's ratification. Publication of the amendment is scheduled for mid-October 2009.

Overall, WLANs based on the core 802.11 standard are widely deployed, with more than 1 million units shipping per day, according to IEEE. The IEEE 802.11 standard defines how to design interoperable WLAN equipment that provides a variety of capabilities including a wide range of data rates, quality of service, reliability, range optimization, device link options, network management and security.

"This was an extraordinarily wide-ranging technical challenge that required the sustained effort and concentration of a terrific variety of participants. When we started in 2002, many of the technologies addressed in 802.11n were university research topics and had not been implemented," says Bruce Kraemer, Chair of the IEEE Wireless LAN Working Group. "The performance improvements achieved via IEEE 802.11n stand to transform the WLAN user experience, and ratification of the amendment sets the stage for a new wave of application innovation and creation of new market opportunities."

Adds Paul Nikolich, IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee Chairman: "Everyone involved in the 802.11n process -- and no one more than Bruce Kraemer, whose strong leadership has been instrumental from the start -- deserves congratulations because this is a key data communications milestone and a good example of the consensus building environment 802 provides for its participants. The amendment will enable a dramatic leap forward in WLAN scalability with only a modest associated rise in costs for the industry and end users."

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About IEEE 802
The IEEE 802 LAN/MAN Standards Committee develops LAN and metropolitan area network (MAN) standards. The most widely used standards are for the Ethernet family, Token Ring, Wireless LAN, Wireless PAN, Wireless MAN, Bridging and Virtual Bridged LANs. An individual working group provides the focus for each area. Decisions by the IEEE 802 task groups and working groups will shape communications for years to come.

About the IEEE Standards Association
The IEEE Standards Association, a globally recognized standards-setting body, develops consensus standards through an open process that engages industry and brings together a broad stakeholder community. IEEE standards set specifications and best practices based on current scientific and technological knowledge. The IEEE-SA has a portfolio of over 900 active standards and more than 400 standards under development.
 
About the IEEE
IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.), the world's largest technical professional society, is commemorating its 125th anniversary in 2009 by "Celebrating 125 Years of Engineering the Future" around the globe. Through its more than 375,000 members in 160 countries, IEEE is a leading authority on a wide variety of areas ranging from aerospace systems, computers and telecommunications to biomedical engineering, electric power and consumer electronics. Dedicated to the advancement of technology, IEEE publishes 30 percent of the world's literature in the electrical and electronics engineering and computer science fields, and has developed over 900 active industry standards. The organization annually sponsors more than 850 conferences worldwide.

1 Full title: "Information Technology--Telecommunications and information exchange between systems--Local and metropolitan area networks--Specific requirements Part 11: Wireless LAN Medium Access Control (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY) specifications Amendment 5: Enhancements for Higher Throughput--2009."

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