Wi-Fi, the IEEE 802.11 standard wireless local-area network (WLAN) technology, is still one of the most used wireless methods around. While Bluetooth connections lead in total numbers of transceivers in use thanks to wireless headsets for cell phones, Wi-Fi is the de facto wireless standard for both enterprise and home networking. The tens of thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots make it the go-to connection for the road warrior as well. And with the inclusion of Wi-Fi in smart phones, this technology is gaining new users every day.
In-Stat reports that more than 475 million Wi-Fi chipsets were shipped in 2009. The research company also expects shipments of Wi-Fi chipsets for consumer electronics devices to grow more than 25% over each of the next four years. The Wi-Fi Alliance’s certification data further reflects the growing inclusion of Wi-Fi in consumer devices. The number of consumer electronics devices that became Wi-Fi Certified in 2009 increased by 128% over 2008, with the largest changes in TV sets and digital video recorders and players.
The Wi-Fi Alliance reports that 1461 new certifications were completed in 2009, a 42% increase over 2008. There are now more than 1000 certified 802.11n products, with 442 certified in 2009. Handsets and consumer electronics devices are the big growth areas for Wi-Fi.
Further, ABI Research projects shipments of Wi-Fi access points in small-office home-office (SOHO) and consumer applications to exceed 32 million in 2010. In 2009, 802.11n access points shipments increased by nearly 44% over 2008. ABI Research's new market data study on the Wi-Fi equipment market is now available.
Now with new consumer applications on the way and the Wi-Fi Direct specification nearly finalized, look for Wi-Fi to continue its lead in wireless applications. The Wi-Fi Alliance recently conducted a survey of 1002 Americans over the age of 18 to discover their interest in consumer uses of wireless. Here are some of its interesting findings:
- 74% said they are interested in streaming video throughout the home without wires.
- 74% said they are interested in wireless speakers or headphones.
- 68% said they are interested in showing off their digital photos on a big-screen TV.
- 71% said they are interested in connecting quickly to an available printer without a network connection.
- 58% report they are more likely to procrastinate about downloading photos from their camera if a cable is involved.
- 54% said they would like to automatically sync their audio players without a cable.
All of these views represent a positive outlook for wireless in consumer devices, but wireless has to be easy to use. The survey revealed that one in five of those surveyed admitted to having difficulty in connecting wireless devices. And, 79% of respondents were interested in seeing Wi-Fi Direct technology built into new devices.
Developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the new Wi-Fi Direct specification allows PCs or laptops to connect directly to one another rather than go through an access point using e-mail or other means. The Wi-Fi transceivers in each computer can link up, forming a peer-to-peer connection. This lets users share content, print, sync files, enable displays, and otherwise communicate even if a wireless router or hotspot is not available.
Wi-Fi Direct is not an IEEE 802.11 specification or standard. It is a software modification that rides on the existing 802.11 software stack and uses the existing radio hardware. Laptops, smart phones, or other Wi-Fi enabled devices can use it to talk to one another. One of the devices must have the Wi-Fi Direct feature, but the others do not. The device configuration requires Wi-Fi Protected Setup, another Alliance specification. Security is via WPA2 encryption. This feature works with 802.11a/b/g/n and can support direct data rates up to 250 Mbits/s with a range up to 100 meters.
A Wi-Fi Direct connection is set up as the nearby computers engage in a discovery process and then negotiate which device is the most appropriate to manage the creation of, admission to, and termination of the link. Multiple users can be accommodated. All Wi-Fi Direct devices will allow the user to connect to an existing access point or a Wi-Fi Direct network. Other Wi-Fi Direct devices will support connections to both an existing access point network connection and a Wi-Fi Direct network.
The Wi-Fi Direct specification was just approved, though no products are using it yet. However, manufacturers are expected to begin to incorporate this feature immediately. The Alliance will begin certifying Wi-Fi Direct devices sometime around the middle of this year. Products using it are expected to be on the shelf later in the year.