Wi-Fi's Fast-Changing Future

Chips implementing the WiGig spec would be able to support all three frequencies: so the same radio could use 60GHz for blazingly fast downloads or uploads of data or video, and then 2.4 or 5GHz for, say, Internet or private cloud connectivity.

Sometime in the next 12 to 18 months there will be other Wi-Fi changes also:

* Simple, direct connections between Wi-Fi client devices, bypassing an access point or wireless router.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is crafting a specification called Wi-Fi Direct. Like Bluetooth, the spec will include protocols to let Wi-Fi devices discover each other and securely create a direct connection with each other. The spec will support 802.11n and enterprise-grade Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) security. The WFA will begin certification testing for "Direct" in Q3.

The current 802.11 standard supports a peer-to-peer connection but it lacks the smarts that Wi-Fi Direct will add, and has performance and security trade-offs, says Edgar Figueroa, Alliance CEO.

* Improved VoIP support, with a new set of WFA-authored protocols to let Wi-Fi networks support many high-quality, concurrent voice calls.

* Wi-Fi mesh networks. Mesh connections, which let access points connect directly to each other and transmission hop from one to another, are currently offered based on non-standard, often proprietary protocols. An IEEE standard, 802.11s, which is due out by mid 2011, will make Wi-Fi mesh networks simpler to create and use. More widespread use of a standard mesh will increase the footprint of Wi-Fi networks, and by offering alternate routes, will improve reliability.

* Improvements in Wi-Fi signal quality and reliability as chipmakers and equipment vendors implement more of the features in 802.11n. Adding such arcane capabilities as low-density parity check coding, to improve error correction, and transmit beam forming, which uses feedback from a Wi-Fi client to focus an access point's RF transmission, will lead to more robust Wi-Fi networks.

* Smarter Wi-Fi clients, cooperating with access points or hotspots to improve performance and security. The 802.11v standard, due for completion this summer, is aimed at providing more client data, and power management, to incorporate and control client radios in network management. Accelerating implementation of 802.11k, for radio resource management, will let Wi-Fi networks "see" the client's RF environment, identify weak signals or poor coverage, and optimize the connection.

John Cox covers wireless networking and mobile computing for Network World. Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww
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