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Standards, handsets, chickens and eggs

Jan 04, 20062 mins
Cellular NetworksNetwork SecurityWi-Fi

* Some Wi-Fi trends at odds with each other

It seems that a number of Wi-Fi standards, trends, and issues are knocking into one another and potentially stalling the success of some deployments – particularly 802.11a and voice. Consider the following:

* 54Mbps 802.11a Wi-Fi has been a standard for some time. It is certainly supported in any number of access points, helps you design around interference by supporting a large number of channels, and has a reputation for an edge over 802.11g with respect to throughput and range. Yet deployments remain limited to backhaul traffic, especially in mesh networks. Why? A big reason is a dearth of 802.11a clients, which are difficult to find in the form of Universal Serial Bus adapters and phones. Voice traffic in particular could benefit from segmentation across 802.11a’s multiple channels.

* 802.11n, the emerging standard for high-speed (100Mbps+) Wi-Fi, has been under political controversy for some time, but now might be on track for a draft specification as early as this month. Is it possible that availability of 802.11a client devices has been leapfrogged by an industry planning to pass 802.11a and go directly to 802.11n?

* 802.11e for Wi-Fi QoS became ratified in its entirety just last fall, with product interoperability testing for the newly standardized components by the Wi-Fi Alliance still to get started (scheduled for the second quarter). 802.11 voice handset vendor SpectraLink says its handsets will be upgradable to full 802.11e, but for now it is working with access point makers so that in 2006, some APs will run 802.11e-standard QoS. The company says that many will still require SpectraLink’s own SpectraLink Voice Priority (SVP) defacto scheduling protocol, though. No word yet on when Cisco handsets will gain the new 802.11e components.

* The 802.11i standard for security, informally called Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) with Advanced Encryption Standard was put to bed in June 2004. However, in part because of limited processing power and nontraditional operating system support, most VoIP handsets don’t support WPA2 yet, and some enterprises are worried about the wireless VoIP network being a security hole in their enterprise networks.