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The IEEE working group developing the 802.11n standard for high-speed (100Mps or greater) Wi-Fi connections has moved closer to settling on ;the underlying technology. In a March 18 vote, the TGn Sync technology (backed by Agere, Atheros, Cisco, Intel, Matsushita, Nortel, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba) won a majority in the ballot, but not the 75% needed to gain formal adoption. The competing WWise technology (backed by Airgo, Bermai, Broadcom, Buffalo Technology, Conexant, Motorola, Nokia, STMicro, and Texas Instruments) failed to get a majority, but unless its backers support TGn Sync — or unless the two camps hammer out a compromise technology — it could remain in the running.The IEEE will likely hold a new ballot next month. Several vendors, including chipmaker Airgo and access point maker Belkin have jumped the gun and sold "pre-N" products based on the WWise technology, underscoring the danger of such pre-standard offerings. Both TGn Sync and WWise incorporate multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) technology, which uses multiple directional antennas arranged in an array to receive radio signals, allowing greater throughout per channel. Both TGn Sync and WWise incorporate multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) technology, which uses multiple directional antennas arranged in an array to receive radio signals, allowing greater throughout per channel. Both also use much more bandwidth than existing 802.11b and 802.11g standards, which could reduce the use of multiple channels simultaneously and/or require more spectrum than is currently allocated for Wi-Fi use.
The product news at the mid-March CTIA Wireless conference in New Orleans last week focused mainly on offerings for carriers, particular technologies for use in wide-area wireless broadband networks such as Flash OFDM and WiMax. That left little of interest for enterprise IT staffers to consider. But several important product announcements for IT did surface at the show and elsewhere:
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More Lawsuits over Basic Wi-Fi Technology
In late March, Symbol Technologies sued Intermec Technologies, claiming patent infringement relating to 802.11 technology used in Intermec's handheld scanners. Some of the 802.11 standard is based on Symbol's technology, and Symbol successfully sued Proxim in 2003 over similar claims. Intermec countersued Symbol a few days later, also claiming patent infringements. And last year, Intermec sued Matrics — a company that Symbol acquired last September — over alleged RFID patent infringements. Whatever the truth is behind the alleged infringements, what worries me here is the fact that companies can use patents on such widely used standards to bludgeon each other — a surefire recipe for ultimate failure both in the market and of the underlying technology. It's no secret that many patents are overly broad or for obvious ideas — which should disqualify the technologies from getting the patent in the first place — because the U.S. Patent Office doesn't have the right skills to evaluate many technology patents. And that systemic flaw lets patents be used inappropriately to stifle or toll the market.
There have been a spate of patent-infringements in the last several years by companies whose technology is included in the IEEE 802.1x family of wireless standards, underscoring the danger of a lawsuit-based technology strategy. Although all proprietary technologies adopted in such standards are supposed to be available to all parties through standard licensing, the reality is that the IEEE system does not prevent abuse through these kinds of lawsuits, either by companies seeking to use the patents as aggressive income streams or by companies seeking to avoid paying any royalties. As 802.1x and RFID networks get more widely deployed, such legal fights could accelerate, causing a backlash à la the SCO Linux mess. Let's hope not.
ABI: Wireless Payment System to Go Mainstream This Year
Contactless payment systems that require a user only to wave a small object — such as a credit card, key ring, cell phone, or similar device — near a reader terminal should become mainstream this year, suggest ABI Research in a new study. These wireless payment systems use RFID to identify the account, then use standard banking and transaction processing systems to take care of the rest.
"As consumers continue to use card-based transactions for smaller, traditionally cash-based purchases," says Erik Michielsen, ABI's director of RFID and ubiquitous wireless research, "contactless payment capabilities make more sense, especially for card issuers looking to increase customer loyalty and convenience." In the past, contactless payments were limited to closed-loop systems, such as the ExxonMobil SpeedPass, that were not tied to financial service networks.
"What's lifting this to the next level," argues Michielsen, "is the expansion of contactless payment from these closed, branded systems to open systems tied to bank accounts and major credit card issuers. These financial institutions now want a bigger share of what was in the past the cash-based economy." Merchants with a high throughput of low-value transactions offer the best chance for all parties to benefit from the new technology — if payment processors are willing to lower their relatively high transaction fees that have inhibited adoption of debit payments in the past. Quick-serve restaurants are a good example: McDonald's will deploy MasterCard PayPass contactless systems in nearly all its North American locations this year. American Express's ExpressPay system will be rolled out in nearly all CVS pharmacies. Other key markets include transportation and parking meters, filling stations, and convenience stores.
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