Most broadband Internet connections piped into a home through DSL, for instance, can transfer data at a maximum rate of only two megabits per second. Therefore, depending on the set-up, these faster routers won’t necessarily make Internet connections feel much faster (although you will be able to connect further away from your router).
However, one of the more exciting implications of the increased speed afforded by MIMO is shuttling data faster throughout a local network – such as the digital home. “There’s going to be a lot of media that you have on your own machines that you’ll want to move around within your home,” McFarland says.
In fact, the 802.11n standards were crafted with this sort of media application in mind, says McFarland. “Sony, Toshiba, and Sharp wanted to make sure there were features to carry video through an entire home,” he explains. One of the features, called “beam forming,” focuses energy in a particular direction and zips data to a particular device. For instance, your living room PC could stream music on one direct beam to a sound system with more reliability and speed than sending the signal in all directions.
The wireless handheld industry, too, was interested in shaping the 802.11n standards, so that phones using voice-over-Internet protocol (VOIP) are more reliable. “VOIP has some unique characteristics,” says McFarland, such as requiring a steady stream of small packets of data, which needed to be considered in the new standards. The approved standards “introduced capabilities so that those transmissions could be handled efficiency,” McFarland says.
The 802.11n standard still needs to pass through several IEEE members’ committees, a process McFarland expects will be completed around early 2007. But the preliminary set of rules isn’t expected to change much; in fact, manufacturers such as Airgo, Broadcom, and Atheros have already introduced equipment that complies with the standard. Telecommunication research group Dell ‘Oro predicts that by 2009, 90 percent of all consumer wireless equipment will be 802.11n compliant.
It’s been about three years since the 802.11g standards arrived – giving rise to cafés full of laptop owners sipping lattes while checking their e-mail. And these next Wi-Fi standards are likely to revolutionize the way we use wireless devices once again.