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Wi-Fi security improves

Certified standards and products arriving this year

Two key improvements for the security and performance quality of Wi-Fi devices are scheduled to reach wireless network users this year as businesses and consumers continue to adopt wireless technology in greater numbers.

The Wi-Fi Alliance will certify products for the new 802.11i and 802.11e standards by September, according to Frank Hanzlik, managing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

The 802.11i standard is the complete version of the preliminary security standard WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) introduced last year, while 802.11e is a new standard that will improve the quality of wireless networks that transmit voice and video.

Security has been one of the biggest obstacles to the growth of wireless networking. Last year, WPA replaced the flawed Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) protocol to shore up wireless security before the full 802.11i standard could be ratified.

WPA uses a dynamic encryption key as opposed to the static key used by WEP, and it also improves the user authentication process.

The 802.11i standard adds Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) technology, a stronger level of security than used in WPA. Enterprises and governments, which need the highest level of security available, may have to replace some of their networking equipment in order to support the AES standard.

Newer networking equipment released within the last three months will probably have enough computational power to handle the increased performance requirements of AES security, Hanzlik says.

Owners of older wireless devices should check with their vendor to see if that equipment will support a software download of the full 802.11i standard, he adds.

While security tops most lists of wireless networking concerns, the new 802.11e standard will help home users set up wireless media networks and allow companies to deploy wireless handsets using voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology.

This standard improves the quality of service of wireless connections by prioritising traffic that must get through without delays or glitches, such as streaming video or voice transmissions, according to Hanzlik.

It will be available as a software download for just about all wireless networking devices, Hanzlik says.

Upgrading to 802.11e will make wireless VOIP networks a realistic choice for many companies, according to Vance.

He expects handset makers will this year start rolling out dual-mode phones that support wireless LAN technology such as 802.11 as well as wide-area network standards such as GSM.

In September, the Wi-Fi Alliance will begin certifying products that use a subset of 802.11e called Wireless Media Extensions (WME) technology to improve quality of service.

WME identifies packets of voice, video, audio, or other types of data and prioritises their delivery based on traffic conditions.

Videos transmitted over wireless networks suffer greatly if packets are delayed or dropped, so that type of data is given priority over others traveling on a network, according to Hanzlik.

The full 802.11e standard will include an additional technology called Wi-Fi Scheduled Media (WSM), but the Alliance wanted to make sure products sold during the fourth-quarter holiday season have some form of certification for use in home media networks.

WSM allocates slices of bandwidth to various types of wireless data, and increases that bandwidth as needed for voice or video applications.

For more information on wireless networks, our sister site Techworld has a comprehensive wireless network resource page.


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