Australian Organization Threatens Adoption of 802.11n Standard

A lot of people have been wondering what the possible problem could be with the slow move to actual standardization of 802.11n, the latest, and fastest wireless protocol for wi-fi connectivity. The adoption of a standard has certainly not limited the influx of products claiming to be ‘draft compliant’ to the market place, but the public has been taking a wait and see approach, having been burned over ‘draft compliant’ products previously released, which became useful only within networks with homogenous branding.

Draft 2.0 specifications are available, and several products claim compliance, with no major problems in tested devices. Why then is the standard not approved?

A little known organization in Australia, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, has been the major reason why the standard has not been ratified. This organization holds patents which affect the 11n standard, as well as the 11a, 11b, and 11g standards.

Most users of wireless networking simply use the products, and are not aware of legal entanglements with intellectual property concerns. Some of the legal problems involved are little known to anyone not involved in the actual product manufacture. The wireless industry would not have thrived as it has if the cloud of problems that looms over 11n was known to be a factor in the mass deployment of 11g devices. Yet there are several patent disputes in court at this time concerning CSIRO and 802.11g products.

The problem with innovation in the area of technology is not just one of money but of cooperation. If cooperation is not available, products which are being developed simply stop. In a situation where a spirit of cooperation prevails, the innovation continues and all parties assume that compensatory details can be worked out  amicably, without litigation. CSIRO is not playing nice here, believing that its intellectual property is worth more than any current pricing scheme would allow. CSIRO believes that for each 11n item produced the IP is worth several dollars. This would inflate the price of these products well beyond their financial viability, possibly forcing networking companies to work toward another standard. The sticky part of the problem is that if the lawsuits involving current protocols are decided in favor of CSIRO, and it decides it wishes to be compensated in the same manner it wants for the 11n items, the entire industry could suffer. Each new standard developed depends upon older standards for interoperability, and royalty rates that are out of line with the norm for the industry could bring the wireless industry to a screeching halt.

Are you surprised you haven’t heard about this before? A certain amount of quiet is, of course, the plan, as any court decisions are subsequently paid for with the profits of items sold during the period of dispute. Another little known thing is the case won by CSIRO against wireless producer, Buffalo Technology, in which it prevailed in November 2006. The decision was major, encompassing the intellectual property concerning all current wireless technologies, derived from CSIRO work in the 1990s.

If the patents are upheld, look for all wireless technology prices to zoom, and the little players in the game to simply disappear.

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[tags] 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, 802.11n, CSIRO, Buffalo Technology, intellectual property, 11n draft 2.0, wi-fi, networking [/tags]