Wi-Fi Alliance talks about Wi-Fi Direct

As well as some future developments in Wi-Fi technology

EARLIER TODAY WE attended a presentation by Edgar Figueroa, the CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance where he presented the benefits of Wi-Fi direct and a little bit about Wi-Fi in general. He also highlighted some future developments in Wi-Fi technology, of which at least two are bringing something interesting to the table.

Wi-Fi Direct was announced late last month and surprisingly there are already certified products on the market. However, most of the products in question are PCI Express mini cards, although it seems like all the big players in the Wi-Fi chipset market space already have products certified. As such Atheros, Broadcom, Intel, Ralink and Realtek are all offering solutions that support Wi-Fi Direct. Outside of that, Marvell has a module for cell phones and Redpine Signals has a certified SDIO card.  Samsung is the only company with a certified smartphone on the market in the shape of the Galaxy S.

The good news is that Wi-Fi Direct is a software upgrade and as such doesn’t require any new hardware. However, it does have some restrictions, so don’t expect any and all Wi-Fi devices to get support for Wi-Fi Direct. The Wi-Fi Alliance has designed Wi-Fi Direct to be easy to use while remaining as secure as possible while staying within the Wi-Fi specification. As such any Wi-Fi Direct certified device must support WPA2 as well as WPS. This makes a lot of sense as not only will the connection be relatively secure, but it also makes it easier for consumer to connect Wi-Fi Direct devices to each other, unlike Bluetooth which can sometimes be a bit of a hassle.

That said, depending on the device, you might still be requested to enter a pin code, especially in the case of computers and smartphones trying to connect to certain devices. Wi-Fi Direct allows for three different connectivity modes, although only one-to-one is mandatory.  So not all devices will support one-to-many and even fewer are expected to support the third mode.  This third mode is where one device is connected to other Wi-Fi Direct devices on one security domain and to a standard Wi-Fi network on a second. At least the last option means that your laptop or smartphone could be connected to the internet at the same time as you’re connected to Wi-Fi Direct devices such as a printer or a digital camera.

On other factor whether a device will support Wi-Fi Direct or not is any and all Wi-Fi Direct certified devices must be able to act as the “group owner”. This rules out some devices from being Wi-Fi Direct certified, specifically devices without a display of some kind, simply because it makes it near impossible to interact with the connected devices. However, a Wi-Fi Direct device can connect to other Wi-Fi devices, although with limited functionality on offer. We don’t know how limited this will be, so we’ll just have to wait and see until we can get our hands on a couple of Wi-Fi Direct devices and do some testing.

Outside of the actual chip makers, Wi-Fi Direct has support from all the big names in the industry such as Apple, Microsoft, Intel, HP, Sony, Nokia, HTC, Canon, Kodak, Motorola, HTC, LG, Samsung, RIM, Dell, Epson, Panasonic and many more. For the consumer this is great news as it means that we should expect wide market adaptation of the new standard. With regards to which current devices will be upgraded to Wi-Fi Direct, well, sadly we don’t have an answer to that, but hopefully we should see support on recently launched products, no matter the device type.

Wi-Fi Direct seems to do what Bluetooth 3.0 was sort of set out to do, except it’s going to be at least 10 times faster. This doesn’t mean that Bluetooth will die, as Wi-Fi can’t compete when it comes to low power usage and it’s not an ideal technology for headsets etc. Wi-Fi Direct uses a similar system to Bluetooth to find other Wi-Fi Direct devices, so if you’ve ever used a Bluetooth device that connects to a computer or a smartphone, then you should be familiar with how Wi-Fi Direct works.

The Wi-Fi Alliance set out some future technologies as well. Not totally unexpected, the Wi-Fi Alliance is working on a 60GHz UWB implementation of Wi-Fi which is intended for “multi Gigabit speeds” over short distances. We’re not sure how popular this technology would be, but it could very well become a potential wireless HDMI killer thanks to a much wider industry backing.

Next up we can look forward to a faster version of 802.11n, although we don’t know what the final spec will be called, we were told that it will use signal bonding and most likely require four antennas, also known as  4×4 MIMO setup. This will allow for theoretical speeds of up to somewhere close to Gigabit speeds. From our understanding it will only work on the 5GHz band we were told that it’ll use as many as 12 Wi-Fi channels which would pretty much use the entire available spectrum.

Finally we have Hotspot 2.0 which could bring a return of mesh networking. The development of this standard hasn’t begun, but the idea behind Hotspot 2.0 is seamless roaming between Wi-Fi hotspots/access points, much in the same way a cell phone can roam between cell towers. This could bring several advantages, such as a broad development of community mesh networks, hassle free connection to Wi-Fi networks at large events where multiple access points are required and seamless roaming around large office buildings.

Hotspot 2.0 might even allow Wi-Fi to bring some competition to other WWAN technologies due to the low cost of implementing Wi-Fi compared to competing technologies such as WiMAX, LTE and even 3G. Just don’t expect Hotspot 2.0 to be ready any time soon, but of the three coming technologies it seems to have the largest potential outside of the home. With 1 Billion Wi-Fi enabled devices expected to go on sale next year, there’s no doubt that Wi-Fi is a standard that’s here to stay, despite its many minor flaws. More and more varying device types are getting Wi-Fi support and Wi-Fi Direct is likely to further boost the implementation of Wi-Fi into a wide range of products. As long as it’ll be as easy to use as we’ve been told, there’s no doubt that Wi-Fi direct should prove to be a big hit with consumers and professionals alike.S|A

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