3,000 is Just the Beginning
August 14, 2006
The Wi-Fi Alliance has certified 3,000 products in six years, and has big plans for the future, involving convergence, consumer electronics and security.
Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance, thinks its a happy accident that the 3,000th product the industry group has certified for interoperability just happens to be a Wi-Fi/cellular phone from Motorola (the multi-mode Motorola A910, at right).
"It's a great example of how Wi-Fi is moving from massive success in notebooks with probably 90% of the market [using Wi-Fi] to other categories of products," Hanzlik says. "Categories that could someday eclipse the PC."
That's 3,000 products since March of 2000, when certification testing began -- though that's not to say there are 3,000 Wi-Fi products you can buy today. Hanzlik says of the wireless networking lifecycle, especially for consumer products, "If a product lasts a year, that's a long time." He didn't want to speculate on the number of products available today with the Wi-Fi Certified seal of approval.
Computers will likely be using Wi-Fi for a long time to come, but the Alliance wants to stay relevant by continuing to test for important new features as well as testing new products.
Coming soon: the Alliance's version of one-touch Wi-Fi security, a method of setting up WEP or WPA encryption without the usual headaches. The official name and details will be announced as soon as the end of this month. Hanzlik says the technology will support any device with a user interface, as well as "headless" devices without screens. "We want to support a variety of implementations PIN-based, some push-button, others with USB or NFC [near field communication] approaches," he says. "There will be a variety of ways that manufacturers want to enable the connection. That's the real beauty of it: we take the innovation of the manufacturers and look at that in a standards-based way."
Companies like Atheros, Broadcom and Buffalo Technology have all had a "one-button" security technology for a while, some software-based, some hardware-based, and none of them interoperable. These companies all worked with the Alliance on Simple Config the placeholder name for the upcoming security feature.
Hanzlik says Simple Config won't be mandatory for getting Wi-Fi Certified vendors don't have to support it if they don't want. Even for those who use it in new products, there is no guarantee that any existing "legacy" products will support the Simple Config via software updates.
"Whether there's an upgrade path for older products or not depends on the vendors' product strategies," says Hanzlik. It's not a matter of it being technically difficult: Hanzlik believes the decision to implement Simple Config with legacy products will "be more business plan oriented."
Simple Config also won't have an impact on the enterprise market. It's focused on consumer and small office/home office (SOHO) Wi-Fi products.
Why not in the enterprise? "It's the nature of the segmentation of needs," Hanzlik says. "Enterprises classically have IT management, a variety of resources. But the user at home doesn't have the same capabilities... we want to hit the consumer sweet spot."
The recent demonstration at the Black Hat conference of a Wi-Fi driver exploit that could allow hackers to install a root-kit and take over a remote computer is on the Alliance radar, but Hanzlik couldn't comment on whether it's something the Alliance would be able to address. "We're trying to get our arms around the claims made at Black Hat," he says. "We need to understand if there's a role for us; we're in information-gathering mode."
Fixed/Mobile Convergence (F/MC)
The Alliance soon plans to announce results from its partnership with the CTIA. "It's along the lines of making a joint working group to certify phones with Wi-Fi, the check for best-of-breed abilities... we want all those technologies [GSM, CDMA, EV-DO, etc.] to work with Wi-Fi," Hanzlik says. This testing has implications for both enterprise and consumer products. Hanzlik says "key stakeholders" are at the table working with the Alliance and CTIA. Expect the first batch of Wi-Fi Certified convergence phones to debut in the fall, before the holiday shopping season.
"There's strategies from various types of carriers those out earliest probably had UMA networks," Hanzlik says. "Some are going more SIP-based... there's stuff starting to happen. Some operators may have a more data-centric approach, some may do data and voice. We'll see a lot of experimentation. This is a nascent space; we'll figure the best ways to go to market."
High-speed 802.11n is right around the corner well, around the next corner but the Alliance won't have much to do with it until the specification is closer to done. Delays and controversy haven't stopped vendors from putting out products using the contested 1.0 draft from the IEEE. What the Alliance will do with those Draft-N products and it already has, with several is test them to make sure the fall-back performance in 802.11g mode is interoperable.
"We want to add value where we can," Hanzlik says. "With draft standards, with things in churn, we can only approve things within the certification programs we have in place. Beyond basic interoperability, we are doing a lot of work getting ready for 11n when things are stable enough to be certified. That's where we can add the most value."
As for whether the Alliance thinks Draft-N products should exist or not, Hanzlik says the market will sort that out.
The Alliance does have a policy toward Wi-Fi "extensions" technology meant to soup up the performance or range of existing Wi-Fi that says, if the extension doesn't behave, the product won't get a certification. "It says, 'Innovate like crazy, but don't create a negative experience,'" says Hanzlik. Outside of a couple of early concerns that the Alliance worked through with vendors to modify products, the program has had little in the way of complaints lodged against products. "We put the extensions policy out there early, and it served as good consideration in the development work done to provide user value without compromise," Hanzlik says.
There have been no formal complaints about Draft-N products impacting legacy networks.