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Netgear's draft-802.11n draws fire

Likely to be inferior to existing products?

Netgear has claimed to be first to market with a draft-802.11n wireless ADSL router – but has drawn criticism for a product that is likely to prove inferior to its existing products.

Netgear says its RangeMax Next ADSL2+ modem router, or DG834N for short, is the first wireless-enabled ADSL2+ modem router based on the 802.11n draft, and delivers "the fastest data throughput speeds and furthest ranges available in the industry", the company has claimed.

The ADSL2+ uplink can reach 24Mbps (megabits per second), while the wireless LAN may provide more than 100Mbps – with Netgear quoting 300Mbps symbol rate – and the whole package, including a firewall, costs £170.

However, the company already sells a product range, the RangeMax 240 WPNT834, which is almost certainly faster and cheaper. RangeMax 240 products are based on the third-generation Airgo chipset, also used in the Linksys SRX400 series, which beat Netgear's draft-802.11n products in a test run by Craig Mathias of Farpoint Research. Other tests have found that draft-802.11n products interfere with existing wireless LANs, in ways that spoil the performance of both.

"Draft-802.11n products don't just trash other WLANs, they trash themselves as well," said Dave Borison, senior product director at Airgo. "You are better off buying 802.11g."

Naturally, Netgear doesn't agree. "If the customer wants highest speeds and best range, we give them two choices: RangeMax 240 and RangeMax Next," said David Henry, in an email interview. "If they appreciate the 'compliant to draft 802.11n' feature, then the Next product is the one for them. If not, then RangeMax 240 is the right one."

Henry also disputed claims of poorer performance and neighbour interference.

But the benefits of the draft-n feature aren't clear. Standards should allow products to work together, but Mathias's tests found that draft-n products don't work together at draft-n speeds. They are also unlikely to upgrade to the eventual 802.11n standard, despite claims from chip vendors such as Broadcom, that their chips are very 'soft' and will be upgraded by firmware.

"Netgear does not claim 802.11n upgradability – and we will not until we have delivered on that," said Henry.

Why is all this happening? According to Borison, other WLAN chipmakers are worried that Airgo's Mimo chips are taking the top end of the WLAN market away. "Broadcom and Atheros are bleeding, as we sweep across the high end where the margins are good," he said. "We've backed these guys into a corner."

Equipment makers such as Netgear and Linksys are playing the chipmaker's game, said Borison, because everyone wants to have a press release out saying they are first. "It's just about who has the technological prowess," he said.

Mathais said it seems like Netgear just wanted to be first to market. "But being first to market with a product that isn't ready for production, isn't as good as what it already ships, and claims compliance with a non-standard just boggles the mind," he added.

This story first appeared on Techworld.com.

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