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Wi-Fi Direct Is Here; Hang On For The Ride

Way back when, the original IEEE 802.11 standard provided for peer-to-peer wireless communication along with the more mainstream access point-based Wi-Fi that has become pervasive. Anyone who has taken a basic wireless networking class has learned about the Independent Basic Service Set (IBSS) which is the technical name for ad-hoc client connectivity. Before the advent of high capacity thumb drives, peer-to-peer wireless might have been used to get files from your machine to the person next to you, if you could figure out the wireless setup and opted to permit file sharing directly from your hard drive. But as is often the case, what's old has become new again, as Wi-Fi Direct makes it's entrance.

A visit to the Wi-Fi Alliance's web site reveals what the well-respected shepherds of interoperability are promising products that bear the new "Wi-Fi Direct' specification label: "..a game-changing new technology enabling Wi-Fi devices to connect directly, making it simple and convenient to do things like print, share, synch, and display." Now if you're a contemporary gadget person, you might be getting warm and fuzzy at this point. How cool are Bluetooth-like capabilities at Wi-Fi distances and 802.11n speeds? The permutations of quickly-set up pairings like PC to projector, smartphone to TV, or device A to devices B, C, and D are many, and exciting. It's expected that configuration will be one-touch simple (or close to it) and will yield robust security.

Ad-Hoc Wi-Fi was clunky and many organizational wireless policies forbade ad-hoc wireless for the same interference concerns that make self-installed access points and other devices taboo. USB flash drives did come along, and became an extremely viable modern version of "sneaker net" that helped to relegate 802.11 peer-to-peer networks to the fringes.

If you're the admin of a large wireless network, you might be feeling a bit green around the gills as you learn about Wi-Fi Direct. Many of us have spent years and large dollars building carefully designed WLANs and an important culture of "please help us to help you by not bringing all sorts of weird competing wireless devices to our environment" with those who we support. Whether you keep the interference peace by CIO-level edict or gentleman's agreement, the promised ease of Wi-Fi direct may prove too irresistible for users to try in the workplace.

Exasperating the potential siren song of Wi-Fi Direct is the pent-up demand that many tech-savvy users feel about not having an enterprise-grade methodology to wirelessly connect to projectors and printers since most manufacturers of these devices never caught on to security beyond the likes of pre-shared WEP.

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