New Working Group Promotes Multimedia Grade Wi-Fi

By Sean Michael Kerner

November 17, 2010

Multimedia grade Wi-Fi effort founded to help set the specs for the next gen of video- and voice-enabled Wi-Fi.

Are current Wi-Fi specs good enough for multimedia content delivery? A new industry association called the Multimedia Grade Working Group, thinks there is more work to be done.

Verizon Wireless and SAP are involved with the new group, as well as multiple universities including Brandeis, Carnegie Mellon and Northwestern.  Wi-Fi infrastructure vendor Aruba is another supporter, helping to underwrite a portion of the group's expenses. The goal of the group is to help define the challenges and requirements for a multimedia grade Wi-Fi network that can effectively deliver voice, video and data traffic.

"A lot of the Wi-Fi infrastructure has been built to accommodate access, giving people connectivity to the Internet," Brad Noblet, Multimedia-Grade Wi-Fi Working Group Chair told InternetNews.com. "Most of that traffic has been transactional, like looking at email or a website, but now the paradigm has shifted to where the majority of communications from new mobile devices is interactive with streaming video, audio and chat."

In terms of actually defining what a multimedia grade Wi-Fi network is, the new working group aims to provide some clarity and direction with specific metrics.

"We do feel like putting metrics on the devices and infrastructure is our next step to give people a sense of how one would build an architecture and then certify against that," Noblet said.

According to Noblet, simply running 802.11n isn't enough, though the new Wi-Fi speed standard does provide more capacity than legacy standards. In his view, the amount of bandwidth in 802.11n is still limited for campuses, in comparison to the growth of mobile device usage. Noblet noted that members of his working group have run into situations where within a given geography, multiple 802.11n access points needed to be deployed across multiple channels to handle capacity. With those deployments have come the challenges of adjacent channel interference, quality of service and power management.

Wi-Fi interference has been a topic that multiple vendors have been going after this year. In April, Cisco launched its Clean Air technology to ensure that Wi-Fi spectrum is free from interference. Aruba also has spectrum analysis technology as part of its ArubaOS 6.0 system that powers its wireless gear.

Noblet noted that while infrastructure vendors have made attempts to solve multimedia Wi-Fi deployment challenges,  there are issues on the client side as well. He added that even if the Wi-Fi infrastructure vendors support quality of service controls, there isn't always operating system or application support for end-to-end quality of service across the wireless link.

"On the client end, we do a poor job of telling them what we need in order to make sure that the network will remain stable for maximum throughput," Noblet said. "We need more direction and communications between clients and the infrastructure in order to make Wi-Fi more seamless and allow us to get access to the capacity that we've put into the networks."

There are currently multiple standards efforts underway to help shape the next generation of Wi-Fi. In Noblet's view, the work that is currently being undertaken in the standards bodies isn't the same as what the Multimedia Grade Working Group is going after.

"If you look at most of the standards bodies today, they tend to be within a particular class," Noblet said. "There are standards for infrastructure and standards for the clients, but we're not seeing a lot of system level standards that have emerged. I think that someone needs to take a systems level approach."

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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