Blueprint for multimedia-grade Wi-Fi arrives

* New group aims to settle Wi-Fi Wild West

If you're a regular reader of this alert, you'll know that I frequently bemoan the Wi-Fi industry's lack of an objective third-party performance benchmarking lab. Well, we might finally be getting somewhere.

A new cross-industry group has defined a basic blueprint for creating a multimedia-grade Wi-Fi network. The document, available now, is a first step toward what the group hopes could eventually result in an independent entity using it to test and certify a minimum level of 802.11n performance under a consistent set of conditions, explains Brad Noblet, president of BN Consulting.

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Noblet chairs the aptly named Multimedia-Grade Working Group, which so far consists of 11 universities and schools, SAP, Spherion and Verizon Wireless.

Noblet previously served as CIO at Dartmouth College and says that in that role, "I would have paid money to get [objective] information about the performance of an AP."

Funding is just one component, yet a key one, of the significant work that the fledgling group faces.  Other efforts to create performance test labs have evaporated because they lacked a fair and workable funding model.

The consortium, just a couple months old, began with a collective brain dump of all the members' Wi-Fi multimedia needs and experiences. From there, it created a white paper that offers some early recommendations for building a multimedia-grade Wi-Fi infrastructure.

There is a lot to be figured out, including identifying an entity -- such as a university lab or even the Wi-Fi Alliance -- to eventually test and certify solutions. In the meantime, the group hopes to serve as a quasi-advisory board to the infrastructure and client makers.

For example, "How do we get Apple or Microsoft to pay attention to 802.11e?" Noblet asks, referring to the 802.11 amendment specifying quality of service (QoS) prioritization and call control capabilities.

Despite the fact that handsets and tablets conduct rapidly increasing voice and video sessions, a search at the Wi-Fi Alliance's Web site doesn't uncover any Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones that support Wireless Multimedia (WMM), the term the alliance uses for the QoS capabilities.

"What power levels do we set so that devices screaming power don't interfere with all their neighbors?" continues Noblet. "Infrastructure vendors don't control how clients are produced," he adds, hitting on the issue of all Wi-Fi client devices behaving slightly differently in any given environment.

"We hope to help push initiatives…to get client and infrastructure [makers] to talk to one another…to get some agreements."

What's next?

 "I have no idea how long this effort will take, but the problem won't wait," Noblet says. "This has got to get solved or we're going to get crushed."

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