Does 802.11g need clearer labels?

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The recent imbroglio over the specified and actual transfer rates of the IEEE 802.11g standard, also known as AirPort Extreme to Mac users, has gotten Wireless Supersite editor Ross Rubin asking if Wi-Fi hardware needs clearer labels.

After a similar row, Hard disk and display makers now specify when their advertised sizes are smaller than what the consumer actually gets. They include qualifiers like "usable" screen space and "formatted" capacity, noted Rubin. "However, this truth in advertising doesn't exist in the land of wireless networks."

Apple's own executives tacitly acknowledge that users who buy AirPort Extreme products are more likely to see actual transfer speeds about half of what's advertised, just as they're likely to see transfer speeds about half of what's advertised for AirPort. This isn't exclusive to Apple products, either -- other hardware that follows IEEE's 802.11a, b and g specifications work at considerably slower speeds than the upper limit of what's advertised.

"Ultimately, the gap between the theoretical and actual speeds of networks is an issue neither new nor endemic to wireless," Rubin admitted. "But the ease of use of installing wireless networks has put them in the hands of businesspeople and consumers who are not network experts. Lay people need better information on what they can realistically expect from their networks."

This is less of an issue in the consumer market than it is in the corporate market, Rubin posited, because many consumers are hamstrung by shared broadband bandwidth that limits their Internet access to well below even what 802.11b is capable of.

"As more demanding tasks such as networked video begin to overwhelm the real limits of today's Wi-Fi gear, however, members of the Wi-Fi Alliance may find things less appealing things than packets flying through the air toward them," he concluded.

This story, "Does 802.11g need clearer labels?" was originally published by PCWorld.

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