Wi-Fi Alliance certification program offers more enterprise solutions

The Wi-Fi Alliance certification program continue to expand as more devices, applications and users rely on Wi-Fi for connectivity.

With the majority of the world's data traffic now beginning and ending with a Wi-Fi connection, enterprises need Wi-Fi devices that are easier to use on the job.

With Wi-Fi being deployed in the majority of enterprises around the world, the Wi-Fi Alliance has been busily developing and launching new Wi-Fi Alliance certification programs and capabilities, said Edgar Figueroa, CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance, at Interop in Las Vegas.

Sixty percent of global network traffic now begins or ends with a Wi-Fi connection, according to Boston-based technology consultancy firm Strategy Analytics. Wi-Fi is really shining in the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) space as users shift their reliance away from their desktop computer or laptop to their mobile device to run demanding business applications. Figueroa estimated that 75% of tablets sold today are Wi-Fi only, so the industry will have to embrace Wi-Fi as a viable way to transfer valuable data.

Wi-Fi has also become more than just wireless LAN, Figueroa said. "Wi-Fi … traffic is expected to grow, but not just because of new devices, but applications, too. The good news is that Wi-Fi will be ready to meet greater data demands," he said.

The Wi-Fi Alliance -- dedicated to both market and technological Wi-Fi development with 550 global member companies -- is showing no signs of slowing down in 2013, Figueroa said.

New Wi-Fi Alliance certification programs

Seven new Wi-Fi Alliance certification programs were launched in 2012 to help address BYOD, including the popular Passpoint, a protocol also known as Hotspot 2.0 that works with public Wi-Fi hotspots to discover and connect to Wi-Fi networks without any user intervention.

The technology has the intelligence to not only detect the networks around the device, but can also determine the best network to connect to based on the user's preferences and services that the subscriber may have rights to.

The user's enterprise credentials can authenticate the user on a local Wi-Fi connection. "This is sort of the holy grail of a hotspot environment, since often times users have to sign up to the service, or remember a username and password," Figueroa said.

Passpoint can also avoid the user having different connectivity experiences as they move from one physical location to another.

The certification gives users a cellular-like level of security, too. "With that kind of encryption, users can do banking and even view their health record -- whatever they need to do that involves sensitive information," he said.

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Another popular Wi-Fi Alliance certification program that will appeal to enterprises and also consumers is Miracast, a standard for peer-to-peer content displaying between devices over Wi-Fi.

With Miracast, a user can project static or streaming data, voice and video from a smartphone, tablet or laptop, to a projector, display screen or TV in a conference room or home.

Interest is quickly growing, with more than 1,000 different tablets, handsets, TVs and notebooks entering the market as "Wi-Fi Certified" Miracast devices, Figueroa said.

Additional Wi-Fi Alliance certification programs released last year include Wi-Fi Protected Access, version 2 (WPA2), Wi-Fi Voice Enterprise, Wireless Multimedia Extensions with Admission Control, Tunneled Direct Link Setup and Independent Basics Service Setup with Wi-Fi Protected Setup.

Maturing Wi-Fi means less work for users

While other groups -- like the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers -- have also developed important standards for the development of Wi-Fi, the Wi-Fi Alliance will continue to help fill in the gaps, Figueroa said. "Not all areas within Wi-Fi have been addressed. … We haven't been shy in getting involved in that work," he said.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has its sights set on seamless connectivity for users, including one area where the industry has struggled for years. Seamless handoff between Wi-Fi and cellular still remains a challenge, but Figeuroa said it's an area the industry will soon address.

While the Wi-Fi Alliance has been working with the CTIA wireless association towards the creation of a "transitional" standard, it won't be as easy for wireless vendors as creating a new module for existing access points. Several wireless vendors -- including Agito, recently acquired by ShoreTel for its mobile networking capabilities -- have created products for seamless cellular and Wi-Fi, but no technology has won wide adoption, said Craig Mathias, principal with the Ashland, Mass.-based Farpoint Group advisory firm.

"The major reason is that a standard like this needs to be integrated into the fundamental technologies; it can't be produced as an add-on," he said. "It needs to be part of both the cellular and Wi-Fi specifications."

There will be generational upgrades coming down the line in the next few years. In some cases, users won't even have any interaction with the Wi-Fi, but they'll have connectivity.

"Ideally, the specification would be done in such a way by [the] cellular and Wi-Fi [industries] that there would be system-independent handoff from any device to any device," Mathias said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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