The cabin crew asks kindly that all passengers remain seated throughout the flight and please refrain at all times from turning off their wireless devices.
Such seamless connectivity will be part of the average consumer experience for many travelers in the near future if you believe what some proponents of the Wi-Fi wireless networking industry are saying.
Delivering a keynote at the Ziff Davis Wireless Solutions Virtual Tradeshow 2005 on Wednesday, Wi-Fi advocate David Cohen predicted that distribution of more powerful networking gear, larger numbers of interoperable devices and better security measures will lead to widespread adoption of the technology.
Cohen, who is co-founder of the Wi-Fi Alliance industry group and a marketing executive at chipmaker Broadcom Corp., said that continued advancement of the 802.11 wireless standard and a fleet of smarter products, are fueling a new wave of growth in the unwired world.
Perhaps the most provocative evidence of that adoption, he said, is the work of Boeing division Connexion and others to bring Wi-Fi onto airplanes, including flights by Lufthansa and Korean Airlines.
“Its pretty amazing to think that airlines are telling us to turn on our wireless devices now, instead of asking us to turn them off in years past,” said Cohen.
“If your world isnt wireless already, it will be soon, as better (Wi-Fi) products come to market, security gets better, networks get easier to set up, and pricing comes into affordable levels.”
For its part, the Wi-Fi Alliance is a non-profit association dedicated to promoting use of such wireless LANs (WLANs).
Among the 200 companies involved in the organization are sizeable technology vendors including Broadcom, Cisco Systems Inc., Dell Inc., Intel Corp., Microsoft Corp, Nokia Corp. and Sony Corp.
According to Dallas-based researchers Parks Association, a majority 52 percent of all Internet-connected U.S. homes already use some form of Wi-Fi networking technology, and Cohen said that number should increase dramatically over the next three years.
One of the primary catalysts for the projected industry growth, he said, will be the work that Wi-Fi Alliance is doing to push forward 802.11.
The latest version of the standard being advanced by the organization is 802.11n, which promises to significantly improve network data speed and reliability, in addition to increasing the physical range of Wi-Fi access points.
The Wi-Fi Alliance is projecting that 802.11n could push wireless data processing speeds above 540MB per second, or capable of handling over ten times more data than todays widely used 802.11g technologies.
By late 2006 or early 2007, said Cohen, 802.11n technology should be available widely enough so that most Wi-Fi users in the U.S. and major markets in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region can benefit from the improved performance.
As part of the bandwidth-related increase promised by the new technologies, Cohen said that Wi-Fi users will soon be able to use larger numbers of multimedia applications that depend on the increased data rates to run effectively, such as wireless video broadcasting services.
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.
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.
“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.
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.