San Francisco -- May 20, 1996 -- A group of mobile computing product and service suppliers have formed the Wireless LAN Interoperability Forum (WLI Forum) whose member companies will deliver a wide range of interoperable wireless local area networking (LAN) products and services, thereby promoting the growth of the wireless LAN marketplace. The WLI Forum will publish an open interface specification enabling independent parties to develop compatible products, and will establish a certification process for wireless LAN product interoperability.
"Customers want to install one wireless network that supports a variety of mobile data applications," said Chris Gladwin, WLI Forum chairman and product strategy director for Zenith Data Systems. "But since no single product serves everyone's mobile computing needs, users need to incorporate many products from different suppliers. The WLI Forum was founded to address this interoperability requirement today and to pave a path for continued, optimal growth of the entire industry."
Founding WLI Forum member companies include ALPS Electric, USA (formerly Kalidor), AMP, Comtron, Data General, Kansai Electric, LXE, Matsushita Inter-Techno, Norand, NTT-IT, Proxim, Raytheon Electronics, Seiko Epson, TimeMaster, WiSE Medical Systems and Zenith Data Systems.
Open interface specification
The WLI Forum's charter to establish wide-spread interoperability in the wireless LAN industry will be accomplished via publication of a complete, robust open interface specification targeted for release in summer 1996.
The specification will document the Radio Frequency (RF) interface used by WLI Forum members' products, allowing independent parties to develop compatible networking products. The WLI Forum specification is based on the RangeLAN2 interface developed by Proxim and used today in many products by both WLI Forum member companies and other wireless LAN vendors.
"The widespread use and proven robustness of RangeLAN2 make it the logical basis for an interoperability interface":, explained Gladwin. "Yet the open specification allows non-RangeLAN2 suppliers to get into the business. Other manufacturers, in addition to Proxim, will supply specification-compatible adapters and design-in modules."
The WLI Forum believes its specification will broaden the range of wireless capabilities users can select from, prompt more competitive pricing, and assure consumers that they are investing in a technology which will be supported and enhanced for a long period of time.
"To my knowledge, this is the first time a wireless LAN vendor has opened up the physical layer of its flagship product", said Craig J. Mathias, a principal with Farpoint Group in Ashland, MA. "I find this strategy to be reminiscent of that used in building Ethernet's leadership in wired LANs, and perhaps we will see a similar effect here."
In a related effort, Proxim will license manufacturing rights for RangeLAN2 products to selected leading manufacturing companies. This will speed the availability of WLI Forum compatible networking products from alternative suppliers.
To help customers build multivendor wireless LANs, the WLI Forum is implementing a program to test interoperability between suppliers' products. This certification process includes providing test suites and sponsoring the actual testing. The test suites are defined around a complete set of functionality including basic communication, roaming and power management. The objective is to offer customers true interoperability without compromising functionality.
Relationship to IEEE 802.11
Although the WLI Forum is formalizing an informal basis of interoperability that has existed for a few years with RangeLAN2, the organization recognizes that it is hard to avoid the perception that the WLI Forum interface offers a competitive alternative to the long-anticipated IEEE 802.11 standard.
The WLI Forum charter targets real interoperability between wireless LAN products in 1996 and beyond, including opening existing interfaces, defining and executing interoperability tests, and increasing market awareness. This charter is not intended to conflict with the IEEE 802.11 objective of developing new interface specifications. As new standards emerge, including 802.11 in the 2.4 GHz band and other standards in different bands, the WLI Forum will incorporate them into its charter activities and will develop a transition path to them from the current RangeLAN2-based interface.
"We wanted to provide immediate solutions to customers, so an 802.11 basis was not an option", commented Gladwin. "However, many WLI Forum member companies are heavily involved in the 802.11 committee and have 802.11 development plans. If the IEEE 802.11 draft proposal evolves into a robust standard, I expect it to become an important part of the Forum's program."
The WLI Forum is self-funded through membership dues and fees. The organization's membership is open to all companies that develop, manufacture or sell WLI Forum specification-compatible wireless LAN products or plan to do so. Annual dues are $6,000. For more information about joining the WLI Forum, interested companies should contact forum secretary Brian Button, vice president of marketing for Proxim, Inc., at 415-960-1630.