A Few Wi-Fi Wish-List Items for 2011

Finally, as a wrap-up to my 2010 recap and 2011 projections for the Wi-Fi industry, here a few wish-list items that are desperately needed.

  1. Voice-Enterprise Certification – the convergence of voice over IP with user mobility and smartphone adoption is leading the requirement for organizations to support large-scale VoFi deployments. However, performance of voice over Wi-Fi must be balanced with strong security based on WPA2 (802.11i) and 802.1x/EAP authentication. Predicting this need, the IEEE passed the 802.11r amendment in June 2008 to provide a method for fast, secure roaming by clients among a coordinated group of access points. This allows clients to re-use existing master key material obtained during the initial authentication during subsequent roams to other APs within the system, bypassing lengthy authentication exchanges. However, industry adoption for this feature has been almost completely absent, and the Wi-Fi Alliance has been slow to finalize the Voice-Enterprise interoperability program. This feature is such an important milestone for network performance and SLA compliance it is hard to fathom why both infrastructure and client vendors have been reluctant to implement fast roaming capability. Perhaps 2011 will be the year customers get this needed tool to increase network performance.

  2. 802.11u Amendment Ratification – it’s painfully obvious that open unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots are inadequate for broad consumer use, resulting in poor data security. The problem with providing an alternative has been the complicated nature of secure Wi-Fi hotspots. In addition, there is no current mechanism for service advertisement at public locations other than creative network SSID naming. The IEEE 802.11u amendment aims to change this and remove the barriers to secure public Wi-Fi. It will do this by allowing additional information to be sent between network operators and customers for service advertisement, coordination of service delivery between Wi-Fi and external network operations (such as cellular), and provide on-demand account enrollment and customer authorization for network access. It aims to simplify the entire process for users, easing proper network identification and selection as well as gaining access through both paid and free hotspot networks. It is also unclear at this point if 802.11u will include provisions for anonymous EAP authentication and automated provider authentication (certificate validation) for free hotspots, but this function is also a clear necessity. Watch for ratification of this amendment in 2011, but manufacturer adoption and inter-network roaming agreements are likely longer-term developments.

What’s on your Wi-Fi feature wish-list?