Tag Archives: Wi-Fi Alliance

Why No Wi-Fi Alliance at Wireless LAN Professionals Conference?

As I wake on the last day of the excellent WLAN Professionals Conference in Phoenix, I’m reviewing tIMG_5988he many pages of notes I’ve taken. There’s a good chance that I’m not the only one that will be leaving this event with a whole lot of food for thought. From learning about what’s coming next with 802.11ax  to getting exposure to a range of new support tools to having how each of us approaches Wi-Fi design challenged (and/or affirmed), this conference has absolutely been time well spent.

At the same time, somewhere in Day 2, I had a strong feeling that something is missing here. Despite hearing from industry and technology experts, getting a glimpse of the Wi-Fi future as toolmakers and tech leaders see it, and just filling sheet after sheet with “yeah, I better look deeper in to THAT” kinds of notes, I realized that there was a palpable void in the schedule.

There is no session by the Wi-Fi Alliance at the WLAN Professionals Conference.

With HaLow just announced, developments in the IoT and unlicensed LTE space, and oddball initiatives like TLPS hanging in the air, it would just make sense to hear a solid 60 minutes on the State of Wi-Fi from the organization self-charged with being one of our brightest advocacy lights. There’s no doubt the room would be filled to capacity, and if the session lasted all day there still wouldn’t be enough time for all the Q & A likely to happen.

Don’t get me wrong- I won’t leave this event feeling slighted in any way.This is my third WLPC, and each one has been better than the last (which was excellent, too). But you can feel the energy and interest in the crowd, and attendees are thirsty to know three things:

  • How did we get here, as an industry?
  • What is going on that I may be missing?
  • What comes next that I need to be thinking about?

The Wi-Fi Alliance owns a major stake in each of those topics and quite frankly should have been here to participate in the discussions, in my opinion. The Alliance would do well to hear what the real “doers” of wireless are thinking and feeling, and would likely walk away with equal parts praise and criticism on a variety of salient points. This feedback *could* be valuable to the Alliance- if they made good use of it.

Many of my colleagues feel that the members of Wi-Fi Alliance has taken a strong turn towards simply getting more of their gadgetry sold at the expense of true interoperability and a responsible, sensible, forward-looking evolution of the WLAN space. I tend to agree.

It would be great if we could have had the chance to find out first-hand at WLPC, but that didn’t happen.

 

What’s Not Being Mentioned For Google Glass 2.0 Signals a Bigger Disconnect

Google is at it again, and you don’t have to look very hard to find press coverage on the “coming soon!” next edition of Google Glass. Here’s one to orient you in case you’re not caught up yet. Beyond “Enterprise Edition”, I’m also seeing it referred to as “For Work”, and even 2.0. Let’s see which one sticks… With the words “enterprise” and “for work” being associated with the new version, I’m here to tell you that trouble may be brewing for the WLAN industry, for clients, and for those who run wireless networks. I hope I’m wrong on this. But regardless, there’s a big fat stinky elephant in the room.

Let’s zoom in on some of what’s getting people all excited about New Glass. This screen scrape comes from the above-linked article:
Glass 2

That the new unit has dual-band support (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) on Wi-Fi is indeed a step forward. But of the dozen of so articles I looked at on New Glass, I see no mention whatsoever that this model will support enterprise wireless security (based on 802.1X). The first one did not, which brings us to a number of points of concern:

  • The fact that “IT journalists” can look right past wireless security when they get all gushy about new devices is troubling. I’ve ready cheesy articles about Original Glass being a wonder tool in the operating room (kind of like the worshiper/journalist who declared Chromecast as being perfect for enterprise board rooms far and wide). Evidently if the product is COOL, wireless security is irrelevant to many writers.
  • The once-great Wi-Fi Alliance HAS been security-focused in the past. They came out with pre-802.11i security measures to plug holes in early 802.11 standards, and did wonders for the industry by advancing the message that WLAN very much can be as secure as wired networks if designed and implemented right. But somewhere the Alliance backed off, and became an advertising agency for it’s members rather than a steward of secure WLAN. Rather than beating the drum for clients that can work at home AND in the enterprise setting where many migrate to, the recent message is basically “wireless is good, buy more wireless.” Ugh. We need cheer-leading for SECURE wireless, not just wireless, now more than ever.
  • When Glass 2.0 hits, it will have a line of wannabe users stretching out the door, from all professions. It’ll spark as many “wouldn’t it be cool to use it like THIS…” ideas just as the original did. Users then didn’t care about WLAN security, and they won’t with 2.0 either. That should be Google’s responsibility- if the powerhouse company wants it used At Work, the device needs to be made to fit into Work Wireless. It can’t demand that we all change our business WLAN environments or build one MAC-bypass portal after another because WLAN security was left out. Where Enterprise WLAN admins can’t easily put one-offs on the WLAN (and original Glass was very much a one-off), users get pissed off. This many years into the wireless thing, the industry ought to be past the fragmented state of client device capabilities.
  •  Those of us in the business of secure wireless are trained that security counts (read CWNP’s Certified Wireless Security Professional course materials for reference). One common mantra is “if clients can’t do enterprise security, replace them with ones that can”. But we’re getting barraged with clients that can’t do enterprise security anymore. One side of the industry is not talking to the other, and the current dichotomy is not sustainable.
  • If there is a delineation between “consumer” and “enterprise” anymore from the client device perspective, it’s getting harder to find. Whether it’s the Amazon Echo, Google Glass, Apple TV, Chromecast, wireless weather stations, or printers and projectors, devices used at home 100% will find their way to work. In the current fragmented client space, we frequently have to violate our own policies to dumb down network security to accommodate the devices that were built on the lazy/cheap. Again, this is unsustainable.

Back to the new Google Glass. I don’t know that it won’t support enterprise security. But I really don’t expect it to. If that’s how Google plays it, well then shame on them. But one fact prevails- you can’t have low-security devices on high-importance networks and not have eventual breaches as a result. I’d love to see Google draw a line in the sand here, and say “Glass 2.0 is 802.1X capable!” and then play that up big-time to educate the masses on why that’s important.

And, I want a pony.

 

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.

Fi and Loathing- It’s Time to Reform the WLAN Client Device Space

To quote myself:

This is not what interoperability looks like to those both supplying and wanting to use wireless. As we move into the Internet of Things, these discrepancies will become the stuff of nightmares as device counts climb.

So how do we fix the fragmented landscape of modern wireless? Given its deeply rooted strategic goal to both shape industry and promote responsible evolution of wireless, it makes sense that the Wi-Fi Alliance should take up these problems and offer a meaningful, forward-looking strategy.

See the rest of my article at Network Computing.

As always, thanks for reading and comments are welcome regardless of opinion- let ’em rip. It’s how we learn from each other!

A Discussion That WLAN Professionals Should Get In On

Are you interested in the future of wireless networking? Are you satisfied with the way client devices are evolving (or not evolving) and with the feature-fragmented nature of the overall WLAN client device pool?

Do you consider the notion of “interoperability” to be more lip-service than realized deliverable when it comes to the status quo in WLANville?

Whether things seem peachy-swell to you, or in need of serious reform by industry-shapers like the Wi-Fi Alliance, I encourage you to click over to a current article by Wi-Fi Alliance President and CEO Edgar Figueroa now running in Network Computing (I also happen to write for them).

Edgar asks “What’s your Wi-Fi strategy for 2015?” For many of us, the answer is:

trying to design and maintain high-performing, secure WLAN environments while the industry works against itself with excellent infrastructure devices on one end, and horribly-implemented client devices on the other.”

There aren’t many opportunities to interact with the Wi-Fi Alliance directly, so from one WLAN Pro to another I encourage you to make your own opinions known in the comments of the article. Hopefully Edgar will reply, and we can gain a sense of why things are the way they are in the client device space- and whether we should realistically expect any relief in the near future.

Alliance

Bummers in WLAN Land

None of the following gripes are the industry’s biggest problems. At the same time, they are nuisances and occasionally rise to the level of major headache. Some of these apply to WLANs of all sizes, others are far more applicable to bigger wireless environments. The remainder? They’re just goofy. If any one of these were to be corrected or adjusted a bit, the wireless world we live in would be a little sunnier. In time, each and every one of these will “age out” and cease to irritate, but for now they are fair game to call out into the light  of day. I got me a license to bitch, and here it comes, in no specific order:

  • Why are those cheap bastards at the laptop factory still putting out 2.4 GHz-only capable computers? It can’t cost more than a couple bucks to provide a dual-band adapter in even the cheesiest laptop during manufacturing. Yet you have to look fairly hard, and often get into some serious upgrade dollars, to find a consumer-grade laptop (beyond Macbooks that come with dual-band 11n in all cases) that features both bands. It’s almost unheard of in the “Sunday Specials” that feature prominently in the BYOD demographic. We all suffer for the side effects, and it’s about time Acer, ASUS, Lenovo, and the other economy-class PC makers stepped up and became better citizens of the WLAN community.
  • What’s Up With Gartner’s Quadrant When It Comes to Wireless Vendors? Gartner has always been a bit polarizing in their analysis of various technology sectors, but they flat out blew it with eliminating the WLAN-specific quadrant in favor of including only “unified” vendors.  It boils down to these:
    • Sure, some vendors make Ethernet switches and wireless APs. But in many environments, switches do little more than provide PoE for APs. Big flippin’ deal.
    • When a company as radio and antenna savvy as Ruckus can’t make it into The Quadrant because they don’t have switches, there’s something seriously wrong.
    • A Unified Quadrant isn’t bad, but it’s incomplete and therefor a disservice to the industry. It’s time to bring back a WLAN only Quadrant, and a switching-only view IN ADDITION TO the unified Quadrant.
  • Apple really missed the boat by not including 11ac in their very expensive new iPhones. The Big A should be a better steward of the client device space’s future. If Samsung can do it, so can the Gods of Cupertino’s Mountain of Cash. Instead of breathing life and craze into early 11ac adoption, Apple cheaped out and disappointed the fans (and wireless admins) that were hoping for more out of Apple’s phone, especially for the money.
  • Apple’s Bonjour. Enough already. Fix it, and do your part to provide some pain relief to the wireless shepherds of the BYOD fields where your gadgets roam free.
  • Cisco’s Wireless Management System. It’s WCS! It’s NCS! It’s NCS Prime! It’s Prime Infrastructure! Whatever it’s called this week, it’s still buggy, slow, frustrating, and demanding of it’s own FTE staff just to keep it breathing at times. To think about putting switches into this same management framework as wireless on very large networks as “unified” gets deeper into the management paradigm is the stuff of horror- unless we see a major overhaul soon. Too much of the WLAN market relies on this sometime-train wreck to not improve it.
  • The Fallacy of Interoperability and Standards in the WLAN Space. Sure, we check our wireless devices for the famous Wi-Fi Alliance seal of approval that should mean all is well when devices need to talk with other devices, but there’s a lot more to the equation. Consumer-grade stuff often doesn’t play well in the Enterprise but nothing on the packaging explains the delineation. And… I can’t mix and match enterprise WLAN hardware or features like I can Ethernet switches. This is arguably the way it has to be, but its also a royal pain in the butt at times. Vendor lock is real, for better or worse.

We’ve all got things that steam our clams when it comes to wireless networking. These are on my short list this week. The world certainly doesn’t have to change on my say so, but at the same time time I can squawk about it, by golly.

Wireless Standards Just Aren’t Enough

First the love:

Anyone in the wireless game, like really in it, knows that wireless networking is incredibly complicated under the hood. That the IEEE and the Wi-Fi Alliance could herd enough cats to get us to where we are today- enjoying our 11ac honeymoon- far from the days of early 802.11 is amazing.

Let’s pause for a moment and think about how far we’ve really come, because it is impressive indeed. From a technology that was an expensive accessory at one point, with low data rates, high prices, and anemic security, to being the preferred method of access today for most of us, with rates and security features that are fitting for any environment (when installed right), wireless has grown up.  A huge thank you to everyone involved, as you’ve given me the best job in the world- that of a WLAN professional.

Now the lament:

As impressive as the modern WLAN is, somehow we ended up with some crazy market fragmentation and mindsets. Even though interoperability testing mostly keeps the wireless train on the rails, we still end up with enough in-place chaos to make life pretty miserable for wireless clients and support staff at times.

Maybe we try too hard for backwards compatibility. Perhaps device makers are lazy or out of touch, or could it be that the BYOD comet just hasn’t caused enough pain to really get everyone’s attention? For sure, the fuzzy, often-bludgeoned distinction between consumer and enterprise-grade components doesn’t help matters.  Here’s what I mean:

– In a world where we’re talking about “Gigabit Wireless”, we still have device and instrument manufacturers churning out chipsets that need 1 and 2 Mbps data rates to behave right. These devices are frequently intended for networks that aren’t likely to have those rates enabled.

– Printer manufacturers have far deeper roots in the business environment than does wireless. Yet, we can’t get printer makers to understand what their devices need to do for desired functionality on the “business WLAN”.

– What we call BYOD is actually BYOD/T; that is bring your own device AND TOYS to the WLAN. If it works at home on the living room network, you know damn well people are going to want to use them at work. Like AppleTVs and Google Chromecasts. To the uninitiated, you look at the specs on the packaging and see “compatible with 802.11n/g” or whatever, and jump to the conclusion that it must work because that’s the kind of network we’re using. The  warning label that should say “check with your networking department before buying this for office use” never makes it to the packaging.

But… rather than having to explain to users why this gadget or that can’t work on the WLAN, or killing ourselves to put in hyper-complex, house-of-cards-quality work-arounds, wouldn’t it be nice if somehow the Community of Wireless Client Device Makers could get with the times and build compatibility for both consumer and enterprise networks in to begin with?

Just supporting enterprise security would help immensely, and likely add little to the device cost. (I’m astounded at how out of touch the business printer/projector makers seem to be). There are certainly other nuts to crack as well before everything is perfect between the WLAN and BYOD/T devices, and Apple could be an absolute leader here. Bonjour has long had it’s day, as I’ve bitched to anyone who will listen.  “Apple TV is perfect for the boardroom” provided that you have one small flat network and one boardroom. But when you have hundreds of boardrooms/classrooms and complicated LAN topologies, devices like the Apple TV are a supreme pain in the assbone. If Apple could do right by the customers who continue to fatten the company’s immense bottom line and give us something better than Bonjour for their devices in the workplace, maybe other device makers would follow suit. (Did you know that higher ed is begging Apple to provide relief from Bonjour headaches?)

Maybe we need tighter “categories” from the Wi-Fi Alliance- with devices that are labeled either “Enterprise Ready” or “Consumer Grade”. This would give incentive for the lower-end stuff (including Apple’s Bonjour-based devices) to step it up. It would also give a clean delineation for networkers to point to for device support. If done right, We could say “if it’s got the Enterprise-ready label, we support it” and if not, don’t bother bringing to us. Everyone would know where they stand, as the criteria that goes into an “Enterprise Ready” compatibility testing program would be based on far more than just whether radios can talk to each other. It’s a nice thought anyways.

Ah well- end of rant. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go explain why Chromecast doesn’t work on our 802.1x-based WLAN.