Wi-Fi Direct set to take on Bluetooth

Faster, better, easier?

WI-FI IS POSSIBLY the most common wireless interface on notebooks, smartphones, and a few other gadgets and accessories. It’s set to become a whole lot more useful thanks to the announcement of Wi-Fi Direct. The Wi-Fi Alliance said that it has started certifying devices supporting the new Wi-Fi standard today, although the word is mum as to when we’ll see devices with Wi-Fi Direct support.

The Wi-Fi Alliance claims that some 82 million Wi-Fi enabled consumer electronic devices, and 216 million Wi-Fi enabled handsets will ship this year alone, and that doesn’t even include notebooks where Wi-Fi is pretty much part of the package across the board. Today, the most prevalent technology for syncing data between these wireless devices is, of course, Bluetooth – a fairly slow technology by anyone’s standards. But it seems like we might not have to suffer for much longer.

Wi-Fi Direct is set to replace Bluetooth in most instances, and at far greater speed. You’ll get the full Wi-Fi bandwidth. Even the slowest Wi-Fi standard that’s commonly support today – 802.11g – gives you some 18 times the theoretical performance of Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, and 2.25 times the performance of Bluetooth 3.0 + HS, and that’s only if you’re lucky enough to have two Bluetooth 3.0 devices. What makes Wi-Fi Direct even better is the fact that only one of the two devices needs to support the standard for it to work.

As the name implies, Wi-Fi Direct establishes a kind of ad-hoc connection between the devices, without the need of an access point. The data is sent peer-to-peer, although there are usage scenarios where one device can be connected to multiple devices. Some devices will even be able to connect to an access point at the same time as they’re connected to a Wi-Fi Direct device, although this is an optional feature.

Wi-Fi Direct supports the 802.11a/g/n standard operating at 2.4 and 5GHz, although the older 802.11b standard isn’t part of the Wi-Fi Direct certification program.  While it might be possible to connect older devices, this is more of a maybe than something that’s guaranteed to work. No fancy UI is required either as push button connectivity is part of the standard, similar to that of many routers that can be found in the market today.

The first devices supporting Wi-Fi Direct should be on sale towards the end of the year, most likely in time for the holiday season. It’s also possible for manufacturers of at least notebooks and smartphones to add support for Wi-Fi direct via a software and firmware upgrade, although this is up to the individual manufacturer. We might not see a widespread upgrade path on older devices.

Currently, it looks like the Wi-Fi Alliance is hoping for implementation in laptops, tablets, smartphones and printers, but this is a technology that could be fitted into pretty much anything like digital photo frames, televisions, digital media players and what not. It’s an interesting new take on a technology that many of us take for granted, and it’ll be interesting to see what new devices show up with support for Wi-Fi direct in the coming months.S|A

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