The Wi-Fi equipment market is expected to see more than 9% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) from 2011 to 2016, with the enterprise segment contributing the bulk of the growth at more than 21% CAGR. And the consumer market mirrors this growth. In fact, there were 761 million shipments of Wi-Fi products in 2010 – with consumer electronics and handhelds comprising more than half of that total. And if one looks at market sentiment 62% of consumers have indicated that they will make sure their next cell phone is Wi-Fi enabled. What’s more, 65% said it is likely they will seek Wi-Fi capability in every tech item they buy during 2011 and 75% of consumers will consider purchasing at least one Wi-Fi-enabled product during the year.
“With the explosive growth of new Wi-Fi enabled devices coupled with an exponential increase in data traffic hitting cellular networks, operators around the world are looking for solutions to offload data traffic onto higher bandwidth technologies such as Wi-Fi,” says Michael Fletcher, Sales Director for Ruckus Wireless, sub-Saharan Africa. “However, connecting to a public Wi-Fi network is often cumbersome, requiring users to manually select the network they would like to use and provisioning their devices to properly operate with the network. Widely viewed as a significant evolutionary milestone for Wi-Fi as a technology, 802.11u addresses these problems by simplifying the use and integration of Wi-Fi within mobile cellular networks.”
Recently approved for publication by the IEEE, 802.11u is a little-known MAC-layer enhancement that stands to have a big impact on the user experience of emerging mobile Wi-Fi being built by operators. 802.11u provides a means to allow user devices to automatically discover, associate to and authenticate themselves on hotspot networks, using a secure, encrypted connection.
“While this may not mean much to the average user, it certainly will be huge in terms of delivering a seamless subscriber experience,” adds Fletcher. “From a user perspective, the aim is to improve the experience of a travelling user for example who turns on a laptop in a hotel many miles from home. Instead of being presented with a long list of largely meaningless SSIDs (service set identifiers), the user could be presented with a list of networks, the services they provide and the conditions under which the user could access them – including indications that a selected network that is being advertised has valid roaming agreements in place with the user’s home network provider.”
Wi-Fi hotspots are typically unsecured and not encrypted so that anyone can associate to the network without having to know the password, but it poses a problem in that all communications via the Wi-Fi Hotpsot are not secure and are sent in plain text. This means that if someone intercepts a user’s traffic they can easily see what it is they are doing, what Web sites they are surfing, and can also hijack the session. With 802.11u, users can automatically connect and authenticate to the best available Wi-Fi network securely, without having to fiddle with tedious configurations setting on their devices – providing an experience comparable to how the cell-phone works when users roam to a new location.
802.11u is hitting the market at a time when soaring demand for wireless connectivity is driving the proliferation of Wi-Fi hotspots. Mobile network operators looking to use Wi-Fi as a means to offload 3G can now use the 802.11u standard to allow their subscribers to automatically offload the traffic with no user intervention, finally making Wi-Fi a truly complementary technology to HSPA and 3G.
“Ruckus Wireless will integrate support for the emerging protocol within its Smart Wi-Fi systems within the next 12 months and is working closely with the Wi-Fi Alliance (WFA) to enable the deployment of Hotspot 2.0 services. There is no doubt 802.11u and Hotspot 2.0 will be the next step in delivering a seamless subscriber experience, eliminating the need for users to ‘fiddle’ with configuring their mobile devices – and at Ruckus, seamless Wi-Fi connectivity is what we’re about, so watch this space,” concludes Fletcher.