The WiFi Alliance announced a new wireless networking specification which will enable devices to establish simple peer-to-peer wireless connections without the need for a wireless router or hotspot.
WiFi Direct has a wide array of potential uses, many of which encroach on Bluetooth territory and threaten to make the competing wireless protocol obsolete.
The new spec, previously referred to by the codename ‘WiFi peer-to-peer’ (does it count as a ‘codename’ if it is just called what it is in the simplest possible terms?), will be finalized soon and the WiFi Alliance expects to begin certifying devices as WiFi Direct compliant by mid-2010.
“WiFi Direct represents a leap forward for our industry. WiFi users worldwide will benefit from a single-technology solution to transfer content and share applications quickly and easily among devices, even when a WiFi access point isn’t available,” said WiFi Alliance executive director Edgar Figueroa. “The impact is that WiFi will become even more pervasive and useful for consumers and across the enterprise.”
In theory peer-to-peer wireless networking already exists. In addition to connecting to wireless routers or hotspot networks, many wireless devices are capable of creating an ad hoc network– basically a peer-to-peer wireless network between two devices.
Ad hoc wireless networking has always been more complex and cumbersome than it is worth, and it maxes out at 11 Mbps. WiFi Direct will connect at existing WiFi speeds — up to 250 Mbps. WiFi Direct devices will also be able to broadcast their availability and seek out other WiFi Direct devices.
WiFi Direct devices can connect in pairs or in groups. With WiFi Direct only one of the devices needs to be compliant with WiFi Direct to establish the peer-to-peer connection. So, for example, a WiFi Direct-enabled mobile phone could establish a connection with a non-WiFi Direct notebook computer to transfer files between the two.
WiFi Direct overlaps into Bluetooth territory. Bluetooth is a virtually ubiquitous technology used for wireless connection of devices like headphones, mice, or the ever-popular Bluetooth earpiece sticking out of everyone’s head. Bluetooth uses less power, but also has a much shorter range and slower transfer speeds.
WiFi Direct can enable the same device connectivity as Bluetooth, but at ranges and speeds equivalent to what users experience with existing WiFi connections.
There are potential security concerns that come with a technology like WiFi Direct. Bluetooth has been the subject of security issues like Bluejacking which enables an attacker to connect anonymously with an insecure Bluetooth device and hijack it or compromise its data.
Bluejacking is only a threat in a radius of 20 or 30 feet. WiFi ranges are much greater which opens the possibility of attackers making anonymous connections from the parking lot or across the street.
The WiFi Alliance, which includes members like Cisco and Intel, is aware of the security concerns as well as the risks WiFi Direct could introduce for enterprise networks. WiFi Direct will include support for WPA2 (WiFi Protected Access 2) and AES encryption for more secure connections and measures are being developed to enable IT admins to exert some control over WiFi Direct networks within their environment.
I think Bluetooth’s days could be numbered. If WiFi Direct can provide the same short range, ad hoc device connectivity as Bluetooth (and more) using the same wireless networking hardware that is already included in virtually every notebook, netbook, mobile phone, and other device, why bother adding a Bluetooth adapter and dealing with Bluetooth drivers on top of that?
Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert with more than a decade of enterprise IT experience. He tweets as @PCSecurityNews and provides tips, advice and reviews on information security and unified communications technologies on his site at tonybradley.com.