Wi-Fi Alliance Co-Founder: Wireless Networking Ready for Enterprise Adoption

One of the alliance's founders says the wireless networking protocol is secure and reliable enough for high-end enterprise use.

Businesses skittish about jumping on the Wi-Fi bandwagon because of security and reliability concerns should stop worrying.

Thats the word from David Cohen, a co-founder of the Wi-Fi Alliance, a nonprofit group charged with certifying interoperability of wireless products based on the IEEEs 802.11 specification.

Delivering a keynote address at Ziff Davis Medias Security Virtual Tradeshow, Cohen said advancements this year in two key certification areas—WMM (Wireless Multimedia) and WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2)—have significantly shaped the future of the technology.

Cohen, who serves as chairman of the Wi-Fi Alliances security group, used the tradeshow platform to highlight the groups work on WMM and WPA2 and argued that Wi-Fi adoption is ready to go beyond early adopters.

"Wi-Fi is entering the mainstream. Its not just for laptops and desktops and home networks anymore. Wi-Fi is moving into consumer electronics products and phones and the demand is growing significantly," he said.

Cohen said consumer electronics manufacturers are already embedding Wi-Fi capabilities into all kinds of gadgetry. "Were seeing television products using Wi-Fi to network to the DVD [player] and to the DVR. Wi-Fi is now allowing the TiVo to talk to the home theater system."

To make it all work seamlessly, Cohen said the Alliances WMM standard, which was rolled out in September, was a critical piece of the puzzle.

WMM is used to enhance voice and audio/visual capabilities in Wi-Fi-enabled consumer electronics products.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read about some of the issues involved in implementing voice-over-wireless technology.

"WMM is used to ensure that no connection is broken if someone surfs the Web while youre trying to stream video to your TV," Cohen explained. Normally, the Wi-Fi protocol will administer bandwidth equally between different points on the network, but this led to problems because the traffic is never prioritized.

"Its a question of making sure traffic is prioritized and managed to avoid problems when different applications are being run over the same pipe. Without WMM, when you start a data stream, it gets the same amount of bandwidth as a video stream," he said.

"Everyones given the same priority and treated fairly, but what happens is the guy on the Net ends up with much more bandwidth than he needs, while the folks trying to do video get started and their stream becomes jittery."

With WMM, consumer electronics manufacturers can make sure the video stream is tagged as higher priority to maintain a solid picture during the streaming process. "Whats left goes to the guy handling data and everyone gets allocated properly," Cohen said.

Companies including Atheros Communications Inc., Broadcom Corp., Cisco Systems Inc., Intel Corp. and Philips have already gained WMM certification for Wi-Fi products, and Cohen expects the list to grow exponentially over the next year.

Cohen also highlighted the Alliances work on WPA and WPA2, two protocols used to protect Wi-Fi networks.

"They are both very strong, but WPA2 offers stronger security for enterprises," he said.

Both versions of WPA resolve known problems with the older WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) protocol. Cohen stressed that WPA2 is enterprise-ready because it uses stronger encryption technology and is based on the full IEEE 802.11i standard.

Cohen said WPA2 provides a stronger encryption mechanism through AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), which is a requirement for some corporate and government users.

Editors Note: The Ziff Davis Media Security Virtual Tradeshow is run by eSeminars, a division of Ziff Davis Media, parent company of eWEEK.com.

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