Scratching the Seven-Year Wi-Fi Itch

It seems that the issue surrounding consumer, computer and industrial equipment is becoming less about power and more about efficient power management. A recent two-part article by Sam Davis in Electronic Design illuminates the subject of switch-mode ICs and how they are changing the landscape of modern-day device power management.

ED For some of us, it's hard to remember the days when we needed an actual cable to get to the internet. Wi-Fi, also known by its official moniker "802.11," has helped put the internet in the air.

Wi-Fi is finally ready for its next big step forward according to an article in Electronic Design.

Wifi While we've seen 802.11n products in the stores for years now, the standard has been in draft form for the past seven years. Now the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) has given its official nod to create 802.11n as its newest standard.

With the implementation of the next generation of Wi-Fi, is there reason to raise our hands, jump up and down, worship the brilliance of the IEEE? It may depend on what gets you excited. While there are some definite upgrades when comparing 802.11n to all previous manifestations, it is definitely more of an evolution than it is a revolution.

Speed For Thought

Typical Wi-Fi rates currently run at speeds approaching 50Mb/s. Now, imagine a world where the Wi-Fi rate is more of the range of 300Mb/s. That's quite a jump and one that will certainly pay dividends in regards to the amount of information one can access in a given period of time. Some would promote that number even higher, saying that the new technology is capable of transmitting data at up to 600 Mb/s, but that has yet to be achieved.

When you add in one of the key aspects of the new technology, the ability to add multiple-input/multiple-output (MIMO), or multiple antennae, to the package, there's a significant improvement in data resolution that single antenna technology just couldn't compete against.

Going Long

You may not be hard-wired, but you've undoubtedly felt the effect of Wi-Fi reach on your laptop. The current system has a range of approximately 100 feet in an indoor environment. That's going to be extended to over 300 feet with the new 802.11n technology.


Now, take in to account that the new system also provides spatial division multiplexing (SDM). Basically, that means that all the data going along a particular single bandwidth channel will be sorted out and brought through at a much faster rate and with greater accuracy once it reaches its destination.

Add to that a 40MHz channel, which offers twice the bandwidth of the current technology, and things go even faster, with even better accuracy.

Almost Perfect

Even though the new standard has yet to get up and running, there's a lot of excitement with the possibilities and opportunities 802.11n is going to provide. Some might say that it's too good to be true. At least in one respect, they'd be right.

802.11n requires significantly more power to run. The glitch has to do with the MIMO which, while allowing for a number of technological advantages, has a much higher rate of power drain. For people truly looking to live an unplugged life on the computer, that can create a bit of a battery problem.
As Paul Whylock, the author of the original article so succinctly puts it, "Where would electronic designers be if they didn't have the design challenges presented by emerging technologies."