Become Aware of Wi-Fi Aware

It looks we’re on the verge of another one of those Wi-Fi features that seems like (maybe?) it’s a good thing for wireless users of a certain mindset, but perhaps not so much for those of us in the business of business WLAN. The topic is Wi-Fi Aware, and it’s time we wireless administrator types started paying attention- before the expected deluge of devices later this year or early next.

I’ll start by admitting I know that I don’t know a lot about Wi-Fi Aware, but I’m trying to grasp the potential implications from both the client and system ends. I do know that Wi-Fi Aware is being touted as both a services discovery mechanism for seeing what your fellow clients are capableof, and is something akin to beacons for location-based triggering except with a much longer range. Supposedly, the framework is opt-in/out per application, and you share whether your device advertises or accepts interactions with other wireless users. There aren’t yet many client devices out with the capability, but they will definitely come in the months to come.

Wi-Fi Aware is stirring up a lot of media attention, but before I share a couple of examples, it’s worth pointing out that this is yet another baby of the Wi-Fi Alliance. If you want to start learning about Wi-Fi Aware, I recommend you first visit the Alliance’s pages on it:

Because it’s new, there is a lot of speculation about how Wi-Fi Aware might get used, but little in the way of real-world example yet. Nonetheless, here are a couple of speculative articles to prime the pump: Wi-FI Aware and the IoT, and all your devices will connect instantly. There are plenty more to be found with simple Internet search.

It’s way too early to form a reality-based opinion on Wi-Fi Aware, but I can tell you one thing that makes me a bit uncomfortable. Like with many of it’s initiatives, the Wi-Fi Alliance does no real favors to enterprise Wi-Fi folks with early hype on Wi-Fi Aware. This feature set is very much client to client before and outside of the clients actually being on the WLAN- which means it’s one more thing the WLAN is likely to get blamed for when some aspect of Wi-Fi Aware doesn’t work as expected. It would be great if the Alliance would go so far as to say:

  • Here’s what it means to home wireless networks
  • Here’s what it means to public wireless networks
  • Here’s what it means to captive portal Wi-Fi networks
  • Here’s what it means to 802.1x secure WLAN

Given that client-to-client actions can trigger attempts to join and use Wi-Fi infrastructure networks, it would be great if some of the nitty-gritty was shared up front rather than left to admins to suffer through. 

Here’s where I’ll admit to being a bit pissy about the Wi-Fi Alliance. I’m pleased that they are so into new feature sets and the like, but it very much feels like they have pretty much turned their backs on the enterprise wireless demographic in favor of simply pushing product to non-business consumers. 

Where the consumer and enterprise worlds collide, it’s up to the WLAN admin to clean up the frequent messes while the Alliance either stays quiet or simply pipes up with a Neanderthal-like “Wi-Fi good. Buy more Wi-Fi”.
Let’s hope Wi-Fi Aware proves to be more friendly to the enterprise than I’m expecting. Meanwhile, it’s time to start learning about it.

Have you formed any opinions yet about Wi-Fi Aware? Do you have any expected business use cases in mind? Have you found any decent technical articles that help explain what Wi-Fi Aware might really be about? Please share, and thanks for reading.

4 thoughts on “Become Aware of Wi-Fi Aware

  1. John

    Yeah!!! More “stuff” to add to the IoT pile of “stuff” that will “stuff” up our enterprise wireless. My hope would be that we can control (ie, enable/disable) these types of things on devices (mobile devices, laptops etc) via which ever mobile device management tools and or through the devices native MDM if it has one. Then for guests/portals etc have a way (via the enterprise wireless hardware) to detect if a user’s devices has such a feature enabled and redirect them to a page stating something to the effect that “we see your (insert device) has (insert crappy non-enterprise friendly “feature”) enabled. In order to connect to our enterprise guest wireless you’ll need to first disable (said “feature”) and then try again. And the usual garbage about contacting your device admin etc.

    Sure people will cry that their application X won’t work if they disable “feature” X in order to join our guest wireless while on-site/visiting etc but too bad/tough cookies pal.

    Here’s hoping anyway.

    Reply
    1. wirednot Post author

      John-
      Thanks for reading and for the comments. I agree it would be nice to have influence over this from the MDM side, and it will be interesting to see how organizations treat this on company-issued devices and in BYOD business settings. Your points are all good, and reinforce (at least to me) where the Wi-Fi Alliance falls down in explaining what corporate environments ought to expect when Wi-Fi Aware leaves the mall and goes to work settings.

      -Lee

      Reply
  2. Zach Jennings

    I totally agree. All the Wi-Fi Alliance seems to care about is pushing consumer products. I guess that makes sense based on their sponsor page: http://www.wi-fi.org/who-we-are/member-companies

    It’s funny how there is a HUGE disconnect between consumer products working at home versus those same products working outside of the home (e.g. campuses, stores, businesses, etc.) where the consumer expects them to work as if they were at home.

    It would really be nice if the Wi-Fi Alliance spent some time caring about a more homogeneous wi-fi vision, one that starts with a business wi-fi security model that extends into the home environment. Am I alone in thinking that consumers might want some security with their slice of IoT functionality?

    Reply
    1. wirednot Post author

      Great points, Zach. And it only seems to be getting worse. In the early days of the Alliance, the organization had two roles: to be wireless cheerleaders as the technology gained traction, and to RESPONSIBLY evolve Wi-Fi. Sadly, they have lost there way, and become like the cell phone industry- sell, sell, sell!

      Reply

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