The percentage of mobile devices incorporating Wi-Fi is soaring, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance, and added functionality, security and improvements in ease of use are key to the future of the wireless technology.
Edgar Figueroa, executive director of the Wi-Fi Alliance, pointed to the huge growth of Wi-Fi enabled handsets, making them the largest growth category for 2008 at 52 per cent compared to 2007. Every handheld gaming device released in 2009 is expected to come with Wi-Fi, he added, and netbooks are a key driver of Wi-Fi growth in the PC category.
Wi-Fi boasts worldwide availability of spectrum, standards-based quality of service, support for multimedia applications and multiple users, and bandwidth reaching over 200Mbit/s, and Figueroa sees the technology as a key part of any future wireless system.
The technology was not originally intended to see the kind of universal adoption it has experienced, so a lot of the usability and security problems are because of this history, according to Figueroa. However, one long-standing issue for all members of the Wi-Fi Alliance is to find better ways of enhancing ease-of-use and security.
Laying out the roadmap for the future of Wi-Fi, Figueroa said that the final ratification of 802.11n in the near future is a top priority.
VoIP is becoming an increasingly common service, and the Wi-Fi Alliance is striving to ensure that users get the best experience when using voice over Wi-Fi in the home and small office environments, and then scaling that out to be suitable to encompass an entire enterprise environment.
For consumers at home, the Wi-Fi Alliance and its members are heavily focused on Wi-Fi Multimedia (WMM) which optimises connectivity and data transfer to ensure high quality latency sensitivity streams between relevant devices. WMM Power Save also touches on advanced power-saving mechanisms for battery operated devices.
In terms of security, Figueroa said that users will not see much change except the extension of Wi-Fi Protected Setup, which requires a button to be pushed on the router when a device connects for the first time. There will also be continued education to get people using outdated and penetrable wireless security such as WEP over to the more secure WPA2 protocol.
One particularly interesting development on the horizon is peer-to-peer connections over Wi-Fi, allowing devices to connect with or without a Wi-Fi network. This would allow two devices to communicate directly, offering functions such as content sharing, synchronisation or networked handheld video gaming, similar to what Bluetooth aims to do today but with increased range and speed.
Some of this functionality is already available, but only through the complex set-up of ad-hoc networks. The Wi-Fi Alliance is hoping to have a certified industry-wide platform available by 2010.
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