Wi-Fi 2015: Where Is Wireless Networking Going?

By Sean Michael Kerner

April 28, 2010

With more than 1 billion devices on the market and 802.11n now standardized, what's next for the networking technology? A panel of networking experts at Interop peers into the crystal ball.

LAS VEGAS -- With more than 1 billion devices in service, Wi-Fi arguably ranks as one of the most successful networking technologies ever created.

But what will it take for Wi-Fi to continue to grow? A panel of standards experts tackled that question here at the Interop conference.

"We expect a long run as there is no end in sight for Wi-Fi technology," Edgar Figueroa, CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance, told the audience.

Ben Guderian, vice president of wireless solutions at Polycom, added that with 802.11n now in the market, Wi-Fi can truly be the primary source of network connectivity for enterprises, rather than going the wired route.

Moving forward, there are a number of emerging Wi-Fi standards efforts that will further the capabilities of pervasive wireless networking, according to Rolf de Vegt, director of technical standards at Qualcomm. Among them is improved spectral efficiency by using the next generation Spatial Division Multiple Access (SDMA), which provides enhanced radio coverage of Wi-Fi networks.

On the speed front, multiple panelists noted that work is progressing on the 802.11ac standard, which will bring gigabit networking speeds to wireless networks. "Wired Ethernet went from one gigabit to 10 and is now scaling up again," said Liam Quinn, the CTO of Dell's Business Client Product Group. "We see the same thing in the Wi-Fi space where we started at 11 megabits then moved to 54 with 802.11g, now we're at 100 megabits and we think that will increase with one gigabit per second or more as a possibility in the next five years."

While faster speeds are an important element that will drive Wi-Fi forward over the next five years, continuing improvements to the 802.11n standard are also in the works.

Dorothy Stanley, senior standards architect at Aruba Networks, noted that among the enhancements to 802.11n she's looking forward to is 802.11r, which will implement fast roaming for Wi-Fi to ensure better connectivity. Stanley added that there are additional amendments coming over the course of the next year with the 802.11v standard, which will add further network management capabilities.

With 802.11n, ratification took several years, giving rise to an industry of wireless products based on the draft specification before the final standard was completed. The Wi-Fi Alliance's Figueroa noted that the 802.11n draft products helped to serve market need, and the final 802.11n standard is backward compatible with the draft.

De Vegt added that when the final 802.11n standard was ratified, it added some additional features on top of the 802.11n draft, but the core remained the same.

"Future Wi-Fi standards in the IEEE can't take as much time," de Vegt said. "But for the next few years if you're planning enterprise deployments, 802.11n is a safe bet. Anything else will be backwards compatible, so there is no risk of the investment going to waste."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.



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