Wireless networks continue to be buffeted by the winds of change, especially the explosive use of data on smart phones and net neutrality threats. As the seas don’t look to be calming any time soon here are five trends to watch.
- The line between Wi-Fi and cellular networks is getting increasingly blurred.
Anyone with a smart phone has experienced the seamless nature of transitioning to Wi-Fi from cellular, thereby avoiding additional per megabyte charges and increasing overall stability of the data connection. More and more smart phones and other mobile devices are offering both Wi-Fi and cellular network capabilities making this just one of the many ways Wi-Fi and cellular devices are cooperating to make life easier. So how does your enterprise benefit?
In many industries, like retail, healthcare, and services, improved phone communications is a big benefit. Seamless and uninterrupted voice handoffs from mobile networks to Wi-Fi networks seems to be the next logical step brought on by advances in network protocols such as 802.11n. Imagine having your cellular connection automatically sync to your company’s network. Not only would you have greater security and better quality, but you would alleviate some of the costs brought on by mobile data plans. Unfortunately, this trend is off to a slow start due to proprietary solutions, but customer demand is growing and standards are being introduced by well positioned organizations.
802.11n promises to enhance wireless networks significantly with improved network quality and security capabilities. However, most smart phones can’t tap into the benefits that 802.11n networks promise because they are lacking the requisite hardware. In the future, keep your eye out for cell phone manufacturers that will be able to connect to 802.11n networks via specialized antennas.
- Consumer devices are no longer just for personal use.
Smart phones are used to access corporate information and perform work tasks, whether or not it is sanctioned by the enterprise. In addition, these devices easily provide the means for employees to skirt corporate policies, like bans on Facebook or YouTube at work, since this capability is readily available on the device even if it is blocked in the enterprise network. IT managers and network engineers need to be progressive, embrace this new technology, and put the right software and management solutions in place to mitigate security breaches and the leakage of confidential information on unsecured networks and devices. If enterprises fail to respond to this new security threat, they run the risk of losing control of corporate network policies and having confidential information made available to unwanted parties.
- The smart AP has been reborn.
For many years now, best practices for Wi-Fi management have focused on centralized management and central controllers with light APs. This trend is slowly changing back to the early days of 802.11, where multiple APs with logic and intelligence have the ability to mesh with each other and form a well-managed network without the need for centralized management. These smart APs can share user information, (ex. authentication credentials), usage data (ex. current utilization), and tweak the network for optimum performance. This trend is already well-established with several new players in the 802.11 market, and we expect to see the larger players responding to this in the near future.
- The battle lines for the Net Neutrality debate are drawn: “Freedom to Access vs. Access Itself”
Do you have the freedom to access any information you want?
Because everyone has this freedom, does this in turn jeopardize your ability to access the network at all?
These are key questions facing the wireless industry today, and are often cited as the main reason for more flexible policies regarding “net neutrality” for wireless networks. But is it only this altruistic goal that is driving the discussion, or are financial and corporate dominance issues getting in the way?
From a network manager’s perspective, it comes down to enterprises ability to access the internet without affecting their network. Enterprises need to have a system in place that allows them to tune and shape their network to make it functional but also provides neutrality to ensure things are not blocked for the wrong reasons.
- Wi-Fi Certification continues to gain ground.
There is a great deal of activity on the Wi-Fi certification front, and two key initiatives are worth following.
First, Wi-Fi Direct (also called Wi-Fi P2P) will begin making its mark on the Wi-Fi market. Wi-Fi Direct will allow client Wi-Fi devices to form their own local networks, similar to (but a tremendous improvement over) the ad-hoc mode, which has been part of the 802.11 specification since the beginning. It will provide much tighter security, addressing one of the largest pitfalls of the ad-hoc mode.
Also a recent announcement by the Wi-Fi Alliance details their intention to offer a Wi-Fi hot-spot certification program, which is very welcomed news. Such a program should ease both configuration and security issues often encountered when accessing public hot-spot networks, and will serve to further blur the line between Wi-Fi and cellular networks.
Author Profile - Jay Botelho is the Director of Product Management at WildPackets, Inc., a leading network analysis solutions provider for networks of all sizes and topologies. Jay holds an MSEE, and is an industry veteran with over 25 years of experience in product management, product marketing, program management and complex analysis. From the first mobile computers developed by GRiD Systems to modern day network infrastructure systems, Jay has been instrumental in setting corporate direction, specifying requirements for industry-leading hardware and software products, and growing product sales through targeted product marketing.