WiFi tech: the application

Voice communications will take on a key role in the future of wireless technology.

Read time 3min 30sec

There has been much talk surrounding the IEEE's recent ratification of the 802.11n WiFi standard for wireless networking equipment. It's been a long time coming - seven years, to be exact. The path to ratification has been long and tortuous to the point where the industry had almost despaired of it ever taking place and settled for the 'draft .11n' specification, which the WiFi Alliance had been certifying since 2007.

The big question is: will the official ratification of the 802.11n standard have an immediate impact on the wireless networking world?

With the exception of organisations that eschewed products manufactured to the draft .11n spec on the grounds of its officially unapproved status, I don't believe it will.

One of the reasons is it will take some time for the new specification to reach all the vendors and for the vendors then to make changes or appropriate modifications to their current hardware, in order to meet the new interoperability testing criteria.

Looking ahead

So the key issue is more about the future of 802.11n technology. What can consumers expect down the line? It's no longer an issue of 'when will the technology be ratified' but rather 'what can the technology do for me and my business in the years to come?'

One of the key applications that 802.11n enabled wireless local area networks (LANs) will be used for is voice communications. There is already a sizable amount of draft .11n specified equipment in the market capable of carrying voice technology.

However, the question to be asked is whether the majority of vendors are capable of delivering voice solutions effectively - rather than simply supplying suitably badged WiFi offerings.

Fixed mobile convergence is the future of WiFi networking.

Andy Robb is CTO, Duxbury Networking

New generation WiFi solutions, in addition to an ability to 'carry voice', need to have all the acknowledged quality of service (QOS) benchmarks built in, including roaming capabilities allowing voice to be carried not only between rooms, but between buildings and even campuses.

When looking at voice applications of the future, it's the hardware features that must be considered. The WiFi handset is a good example. It should be a multi-nodal handset - preferably a GSM handset with a WiFi interface - allowing a call going across the WiFi network to originate as a cellphone conversation outside the building, and continue seamlessly as the user enters the WiFi zone.

Fixed mobile convergence - as this ability is known - is the future of WiFi networking. Another future technology is 'presence management' - the capability to physically locate a device, handset or user on the network. For effective presence management, the solution must have the ability to 'triangulate' a call so that within a certain distance a target can be located.

Vital tech

In mission-critical environments, this kind of technology could become de rigeur. In a hospital, for instance, the location of heart resuscitation equipment and an operator could be vital to saving a life. And in mining, the exact location of personnel and assets could become essential in the event of a disaster.

In these and other applications, WiFi technology will partner with RFID (radio frequency identification) technology - already well established in the manufacturing and supply chain management arenas - to deliver a new range of services and solutions.

These future applications will play an increasing role in business, again emphasising the need to choose current WiFi solutions with them in mind, and not just pure connectivity based on the available bandwidth.

In addition, as the concepts of 'cloud computing' and 'virtualisation' gain acceptance, the 11n network point - the ubiquitous RJ45 connector and traditional entry to the network - will dissolve. WiFi will become more capable of delivering the true network edge. Not limited by geographic location, the edge could be at home, in a coffee shop or at the airport.

* Andy Robb is CTO, Duxbury Networking

Andy Robb

Technology specialist at Duxbury Networking.

In his role as CTO, Andy Robb is Duxbury Networking's chief technologist and technical advisor, responsible for the company's strategic technical direction. Robb oversees quality of service delivery and product management. He holds a number of industry product-related qualifications as well as continuing with further tertiary qualifications. Prior to becoming CTO, Robb held a variety of positions at Duxbury Networking, including technical manager, product manager and senior systems engineer. He has been with Duxbury Networking since 2000.

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