If you're an early adopter who jumped on the 802.11a standard, you can be forgiven for feeling just a little abandoned. Will Strauss, an analyst at semiconductor market research firm Forward Concepts, predicts,"802.11a is going to have a very short life as a stand-alone protocol." The problem: 802.11a hardware doesn't talk to either the original 802.11b Wi-Fi standard or the newer 802.11g protocol. That leaves some 650,000 "a" adapters squeezed between a huge installed base of 35 million inexpensive 802.11b adapters and the surging but unfinalized 802.11g standard. The latter delivers the same 54Mbps as 802.11a networks, even better security and still talks to 802.11b gear.
But don't toss out your "a" hardware just yet. The downside of "b" and "g" networks is that they operate over the busy 2.4GHz band, where they're subject to a lot of interference-causing speed rollbacks or worse. Add an 802.11b adapter to a network, and bandwidth rolls back to 11Mbps in any case.
Since the actual 802.11g specification isn't finalized, there's no way to guarantee just how seamless communications among different adapter brands and specifications will be. Finally, dual-mode 802.11a/b products and tri-mode products should extend the useful life of "a" networks. Your 802.11a equipment may still be the best choice for your short-range, high-bandwidth applications, but take a look at alter- natives before buying more.
Mark Henricks writes about business and technology for leading publications and is the author of Not Just a Living.