Power in Numbers
Despite the importance of making progress on such standards, Cohen said that the introduction of greater numbers of wireless devices that support Wi-Fi will, in fact, serve as the greatest motivator in encouraging people to use the systems. From wireless routers to phones, video gaming devices, cameras and notebook computers, an increasing share of the devices being sold to both consumers and businesses are coming loaded with onboard Wi-Fi support."The Wi-Fi ecosystem is rapidly expanding outwards. You have a lot of new devices proliferating and this is where real growth will come from," said Cohen. "Its a healthy market and its stabilized; the real boom (for Wi-Fi) will come from these new devices, and they will change the dynamics of the industry and the overall Wi-Fi experience at the same time." Since the introduction of the Wi-Fi Alliances wireless certification program in March 2000, which tests new technologies for interoperability, the group said that over 2,000 individual products have been approved for use by consumers and businesses. Click here to read about Microsofts plans for Wi-Fi virtualization. Beyond availability, experts conceded that the most significant obstacle to broader adoption of Wi-Fi technologies has been the rise of security issues related to wireless platforms. Todd Thiemann, director of device security marketing for software maker Trend Micro Inc., said in a panel discussion at the trade show that existing 802.11 wireless technologies have been "plagued by security flaws." As more devices with Wi-Fi onboard find their way into peoples hands, Thiemann said, larger numbers of hackers will be searching for vulnerabilities in the wireless communications systems and writing viruses that attempt to take advantage of any weak points. Technologies such as operating system software for smart phones and other wireless devices made by companies such as Symbian and Microsoft will likely bear the brunt of the attacks, he said. "Unit volume is really relevant, particularly when it comes to viruses, because viruses need an operating system monoculture," Thiemann said. "As these (platforms) grow, they become more and more attractive to the virus writing community." Thiemann said that in addition to shoring up any technological weaknesses in Wi-Fi systems, it will also be necessary to teach users how to better protect themselves from emerging threats by properly installing and configuring the security features being built into new wireless hardware and applications. Cohen admitted that security has been an issue with some Wi-Fi technologies, specifically those built on earlier versions of 802.11 that were dependent on the WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) security protocol. He pointed out that 802.11g and later versions of the standard now rely on WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) or the WPA2 security standards for protection, which have thus far experienced fewer problems. "WEP was flawed and cracked by scientists and hackers which remains a problem today," said Cohen. "But WPA fixes that. All kinds of people have tried to break it and its done well, so we believe theres reason to be optimistic." Editors Note: The Ziff Davis Wireless Solutions Virtual Tradeshow is run by eSeminars, a division of Ziff Davis Media, parent company of eWEEK.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.
In addition to more devices, it is also becoming cheaper for people to gain access to Wi-Fi technologies. For example, Wi-Fi Alliance estimates that some 20 million wireless routers will be sold in 2005, with the average selling price for a large segment of that market coming in at well under $100.