What is the Future of Wi-Fi? [VIDEO]

The CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance talks about Passpoint, 802.11ac, 802.11ad (WiGIG), and cognitive radio cellular/Wi-Fi convergence .

By Sean Michael Kerner | Posted May 24, 2013
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In a world without wires, where everyone has a smartphone and BYOD is the norm, Wi-Fi remains a cornerstone technology. Wi-Fi is continuously evolving, and new innovations promise to make it faster and more pervasive than ever before.

Sitting at the core of the Wi-Fi revolution is the Wi-Fi Alliance, which advances wireless technology and certifies interoperability. In an exclusive video interview with Enterprise Networking Planet, Wi-Fi Alliance CEO Edgar Figueroa detailed some of the key new innovations coming in the wireless landscape.

Passpoint

One of the new efforts that the Wi-Fi Alliance is pushing is Passpoint, an onboarding technology that automatically enables wireless devices to securely associate with an access point without user intervention.

Figueroa explained that Passpoint's authentication system uses technology that most wireless devices already have, such as SIM cards.

"It's something that mimics quite a bit what the cellular community already does to authenticate you to networks as you roam around the world," Figueroa said. "With Wi-Fi being so available everywhere, you should just carry one set of credentials, and those should be honored wherever you go."

The Passpoint solution involves elements of the IEEE 802.11u specification, which defines inter-wireless network roaming. Passpoint can also scan the spectrum for available networks and make an intelligent choice about which network to associate with, based on the user's preferences.

Passpoint deployment will not require forklift hardware upgrades. Figueroa explained that Passpoint is a software solution that can be enabled with firmware updates for consumer devices and Wi-Fi access points.

802.11ac

Bandwidth has always been a milestone touchpoint in Wi-Fi's evolution. The next big marker for Wi-Fi bandwidth is now emerging with the 802.11ac standard, which promises wireless speeds of over 1 Gigabit per second.

The Wi-Fi Alliance will take its traditional role with 802.11ac deployment by helping to establish interoperability and certifications.

A number of vendors in the market have already released pre-standard 802.11ac devices, which could potentially be an issue. The same situation occurred with the rollout of 802.11n, when early pre-standard implementations caused a degree of fragmentation and lack of interoperability.

Figueroa noted that the Wi-Fi Alliance learned lessons from the rollout of 802.11n, lessons the Alliance will apply to 802.11ac.

"We were years away from having the [802.11n] standard when early products started emerging," Figueroa said. "We learned from that, and this time we will have a program that is delivered in advance of the specification being done in IEEE."

Pre-standard implementations of 802.11ac have already been announced by Cisco and Aruba, among many other vendors. Figueroa expects that once the Wi-Fi Alliance 802.11ac certification program is launched and available, the vendors that have early implementations will come back and certify their products.

Carrier Wi-Fi Convergence

Today, wireless users need to navigate on their own between cellular and Wi-Fi networks. A movement underway will change that in the future.

"There are early implementations by some service providers that do seamless handover between Wi-Fi and cellular," Figueroa said. "There is a lot of interest in this area."

Figueroa expects that in the not-too-distant future, intelligent methods will provides seamless cellular Wi-Fi convergence that is invisible to users.

WiGig

In addition to the use of Wi-Fi for medium-range applications, there is now an effort to leverage it for short-range use.

WiGig, also known as 802.11ad, is a 60 GHz technology to enable wireless docking for consumers, as well as possible data center usage.

"60 GHz is a short range technology that is intended for in-room applications only," Figueroa explained.

Vision

Figueroa has a grand vision for Wi-Fi that's not just about replacing existing wires.

"Our vision is seamless connectivity," Figueroa said. "We want to see Wi-Fi adopted broadly, and beyond that, to take on the challenges of seamless connectivity."

Watch the full video interview with Edgar Figueroa below.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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