What's in store for Wi-Fi standards?

At the Wi-Fi Planet conference, key industry groups give an update on upcoming wireless networking standards to improve security, higher throughput and VoIP.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Representatives from key industry groups gave an update on upcoming Wi-Fi standards that lay the groundwork for determining what tools manufacturers will have to work with as they develop new products in the coming years.

In a panel session at the Wi-Fi Planet conference late Wednesday, representatives of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Wi-Fi Alliance laid out broad time tables for the availability of protocols to be used with the various 802.11a/b/g standards to improve security and enable higher throughput and voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).

While these groups have been influential in helping raise the popularity and use of Wi-Fi wireless networks, many have been frustrated by how long it takes them to settle on standards and test equipment using the standards, which are essential to developing products and ensuring interoperability.

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"I don't know if the (802.11 Working Group within the IEEE) is discussing technical issues or if it has become a debate society, but it's taken too long to finish," former Intel executive Les Vadasz said of the 802.11i security standard during a speech at the conference.

Stuart Kerry, chair of the working group, noted during the panel session that as more companies join the working group and lobby to have new features included in upcoming standards, the process of finalizing standards gets more complicated and takes longer.

The 802.11i security standard is one for which many companies and equipment makers have been waiting to ease security concerns over wireless networking. The standard is expected to eventually lead to more installations of Wi-Fi wireless networks within large businesses. The standard is on schedule and is expected to be completed by the middle of the year--perhaps by March, depending on whether there are any last-minute changes or additions, according to Kerry.

The high throughput 802.11n standard, which will allow for actual rates to reach above 100 megabits per second, is being worked on by the IEEE but isn't expected for some time.

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A chart displayed by Kerry indicated that it would be completed between 2005 and 2006.

The 802.11e "quality of service" standard, which will improve applications such as VoIP on wireless networks, will become available in two phases. The first, the Wireless Multimedia Extensions, will be simpler and available by the spring. The other, Wireless Scheduled Multimedia, will be available in the second half of the year and will essentially allow more clients to transmit data reliably over a wireless network.

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