Is there anything better than wirelessly surfing the Internet on your notebook computer from your balcony or back yard? How about surfing the Internet from those places at twice the speed?
It's possible today with wireless products based on a technology known as MIMO. Short for "multiple input, multiple output," MIMO utilizes several transmission and reception antennas, along with a host of other refinements in wireless transmission protocols, to drastically improve the speed with which computer users can wirelessly access the Internet and other networks.
In the best case scenarios, MIMO offers at least twice the data throughput of today's fastest currently-ratified wireless standard, 802.11g.
The extra speed offered by MIMO translates into very fast Web page loading and file downloads. It also helps small wireless networks to approach the transmission speeds of wired networks - a big deal for home and small business users who would like to give everyone access to a high-speed Internet connection and to do large file transfers from one machine to another without stringing cable through walls and ceilings.
But MIMO is currently a good-news, bad-news story. The good news is that it's available today in a host of products. The bad news is that the implementation of MIMO wireless technology is not based on an industry-wide standard, so you won't get top transmission speeds if you mix MIMO products from one vendor with those from another.
Wi-Fi Alliance (http://www.wi-fi.org), a wireless industry association through which wireless standards such as today's 802.11g are ratified, is currently hashing out the details of a new 802.11n standard that will boost wireless transmission speeds to the MIMO level and further.
The 802.11n standard, once ratified, will spawn legions of very fast, less expensive wireless computer components - routers and receivers - and there's no guarantee that today's crop of MIMO-based components will be fully compatible.
But the bad-news part of the MIMO story hasn't lessened interest in the currently-available MIMO routers and wireless cards. "The products have been received very well," Morikazu Sano, vice president of product marketing at Buffalo Technologies, told reporters.
Buffalo's recently-released WZR-G108 MIMO router joins hot-selling units from Belkin, Linksys, D-Link, and Netgear in what has become an avalanche of "pre-n" offerings in recent months. The "pre-n" moniker alludes to the fact that all of this technology has been launched ahead of the ratification of the 802.11n standard, which is widely not expected to become official until late 2006 or early 2007.
"Depending on how the ratification proceeds, MIMO may find itself to be a sub-standard within 802.11n," Mehrshad Mansouri, spokesperson for Netgear, told reporters. "Additionally, it is widely perceived that 802.11n will be backward compatible with (MIMO)," said Mansouri, "so the products may very well live longer than we think."
Clearly, though, worries over ratification of standards have not deterred early adopters like Maryland-based therapist Laurie Thorner from turning to MIMO.
"We've come to rely on wireless," Thorner said. "I needed to be able to do backups over the network, and between the cost of buying new wireless equipment and hiring a network specialist to cable the office, there was no contest."