Wi-Fi Interoperability Compliance Steps

By Jim Geier

May 08, 2003

Wi-Fi certification provides solid interoperability among multi-vendor wireless LANs. Here's the nuts and bolts on why you want it and how to get it.

The Wi-Fi Alliance (which began its work known as the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance or WECA before a name change last year) is an international, nonprofit organization focusing on the manufacturing, marketing, and interoperability of 802.11 wireless LAN products. The Alliance is the group that pushes the term "Wi-Fi" to cover all forms of 802.11-based wireless networking (whether 802.11a, b, g, or something in the future); they also are the group behind Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), the stepping stone between the much-criticized WEP and the yet-to-be-finalized 802.11i security standard; and the Wi-Fi ZONE initiative to brand public access hotspots for quality assurance.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is always growing as more companies get into WLAN product manufacturing. It currently has over 175 member companies with 650 certified products, all since initiating its product testing in March of 2000.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has three main goals:

  1. Promote Wi-Fi certification worldwide by encouraging manufacturers to follow standardized 802.11 processes in the development wireless LAN products.
  2. Market Wi-Fi-certified products to consumers in the home, small office, and enterprise markets.
  3. Test and certify Wi-Fi product interoperability.

Wi-Fi certification is a process that assures interoperability between 802.11 wireless LAN equipment, including access points and radio cards complying with a variety of form factors. While initially only working with 802.11b products, the first 802.11a with Wi-Fi Compatibility were announced a few weeks ago. The Alliance's test bed of 802.11g products is being finalized and testing will begin on 11g products when the specification is ratified by the IEEE <DEFINE: IEEE> . After completing a testing program, wireless LAN vendors receive Wi-Fi (short for "wireless fidelity") certification for their products.

Steps to Follow

In order to qualify for obtaining Wi-Fi certification for products, a company must become a member of the Wi-Fi Alliance and agree to do the following:

  • Pay a $25,000 membership fee every year.
  • Publicly display a legitimate business interest in wireless LANs conforming to the 802.11 standard.
  • Publicly show support of the 802.11 standard by enabling 802.11 technologies, shipping 802.11 products, and issuing press releases showing support of the 802.11 standard.

The Wi-Fi Alliance follows an established testing program to certify that products are interoperable with other Wi-Fi certified products. Testing usually takes two to four days per product to complete, consisting of independent testing in one of three labs located in North America, Europe, and Asia. After a product successfully passes every test, the manufacturer is granted the right to use the Wi-Fi Certified logo on that particular product and its corresponding support material (packaging, manuals, etc.).

Wi-Fi certification is not cheap. In addition to paying the annual membership fee, the manufacturer must pay $15,000 for every product they certify product. This one-time fee, though, is good for the life of the product. When updating products already having Wi-Fi certification, such as ones with new drivers or firmware, the manufacturer of the product can receive new certification for no extra charge. This process ensures ongoing interoperability of Wi-Fi certified products.

Worth the Cost?

To a manufacturer, the main reason to obtain Wi-Fi certification is that it helps sell products. Wi-Fi certification is meant to give consumer confidence that they are purchasing wireless LAN products that have met multi-vendor interoperability requirements. A Wi-Fi logo on the product means that it has met interoperability testing requirements and will definitely work with other vendors' Wi-Fi certified products. If the product says Wi-Fi, consumers should feel that it will work.

There is certainly some merit in having products guaranteed to interoperate with ones from other vendors. IT managers generally deploy access points from a single vendor, but they often don't have control over the use of different vendors for radio cards found in user devices. This can pose compatibility issues unless all devices undergo interoperability testing, such as the Wi-Fi certification process. Thus, Wi-Fi certification is an enabler of wireless LAN sales because IT managers are more likely to buy them than ones that don't have Wi-Fi certification.

The 802.11 standard enables significant interoperability; however, there are no conformance mandates to ensure that a particular vendor follows all of the rules precisely. IT managers are beginning to realize this and therefore see the value in the conformance that Wi-Fi demands. In fact, the general public is starting to recognize Wi-Fi as a brand and buzzword that is more significant than 802.11 alone.

With this said, a company wanting to sell mainstream wireless LAN products needs Wi-Fi Certification to be competitive. The importance of Wi-Fi will only grow, as more and more mixed vendor wireless LANs proliferate in public markets.

Jim Geier provides independent consulting services to companies developing and deploying wireless network solutions. He is the author of the book, Wireless LANs and offers workshops on deploying wireless LANs.

Join Jim for discussions as he answers questions in the 802.11 Planet Forums.

802.11 Planet Conference Want to learn more about Wi-Fi testing by the Alliance? Join us at the 802.11 Planet Conference & Expo, June 25 - 27, 2003 at the World Trade Center Boston in Boston, MA. The Wi-Fi Alliance will be one of over 80 exhibitors on the show floor.



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