More Non-Standard Pre-Standard Standards
By Mike Masnick, Mon Jun 14 20:15:00 GMT 2004

In an age when bigger numbers seem to sell better, everyone wants to jump on standards bandwagons before the wagons have even arrived. The latest entrant? 802.11n.

Wireless companies love to talk about how wonderful standards are for the industry -- setting up a common ground that expands the overall market, allowing for a bigger pie for everyone to share in. Behind the scenes, however, there is the same old fear of standards: if everyone is offering the same thing, how can we stand out from the crowd?

The way some companies seem to have resolved this issue is by talking about how much they support the standards process, while rushing out their own "pre-standard" versions of the technology as quickly as possible. A "pre-standard" technology is just a proprietary, non-standard solution with a shiny coat of marketing paint to suggest it's somehow connected with the standard. This way, when someone heads out to purchase the new solution, they think they're buying the new standard they keep hearing about, only to find out after the fact that the technology they've been spending on may not actually work with what everyone else is doing.

The latest to use this strategy is AirGo, who is trying to get a jump on everyone else in the industry by claiming to launch a pre-standard version of 802.11n technology. 802.11n is a proposed standard designed to speed up Wi-Fi to fast ethernet speeds at the MAC level, rather than at the physical layer. It's not expected to be standardized until some time next year - but that hasn't stopped AirGo from jumping on the 802.11n bandwagon with its technology.

From an initial marketing standpoint, it makes some sense -- but that ignores the overall damage such a strategy causes. When Broadcom jumped the gun by releasing pre-standard 802.11g, many people bought their 54g products, because of the speed claims on the box (54Mbps), even though most users were hooking the access points up to internet connections less than one-tenth that speed and weren't sharing any particularly large files on their home networks. Still, the larger numbers seem to sell well when seen on a store shelf. The problem, though, is that it's so early that it's quite likely the actual 802.11n offering won't be at all compatible -- and buyers will be left with a limited use box, confusion about the 802.11 world, and general anger towards the industry.

While it may seem like a strategic marketing move for a single player, the end result is that it reinforces the over-promising and under-delivering strategies that the industry is often guilty of following. Even Broadcom has backed away from the strategy this time, quickly denying reports that they would use the same strategy with 802.11n that they used with 802.11g. AirGo can release whatever technology they want, but claiming that it's "pre-standard" 802.11n does a disservice to the whole process of setting a standard.