The future of Wi-Fi: Secure Wi-Fiwnetzone
I am often asked by customers and vendors what I think the next big thing will be to emerge from the Wi-Fi industry and whilst I don’t have a magic ball to fall back on I do have over 10 years in the industry to see what has been done and what is left to do.
I usually start my prediction by talking about the past and how Wi-Fi has evolved over the last 10-15 years, solving many problems along the way. I call it the three C’s of the past, Connectivity, Coverage and Capacity.
When I first started out in Wi-Fi back on the early 2000’s obtaining a consistent Wi-Fi connection was challenging enough. There was no or very little built-in support for Wi-Fi within devices such as laptops and PC’s and the only way to get connected was to use a PCI or PCMCIA card. Windows had no built-in support either and you had to install what was called a supplicant to be able to configure a profile for your connection… 802.11a/g was when Wi-Fi really become a connectivity option with advances such as antenna diversity assisting in maintaining a consistent connection…
With connectivity no longer an issue and as the adoption of Wi-Fi really started to increase the main problem that was then created was the lack of pervasive coverage. Initially coverage was kept to “Hotspot” areas within businesses and public spaces, hence where the name came from. But as demand grew (which was mainly driven from everyone having Wi-Fi at home) we were then challenged with making those Hotspot areas join up together. What greatly helped at this time was 802.11N and MIMO. Although MIMO gave us higher data rates 802.11n gave us better connections and consistent coverage, making joining up our hotspots a simpler task.
With connectivity and coverage now expected wherever you go it was never going to be long before capacity became the next issue especially with the explosion of devices that has been seen within the last few years. Whilst our need for more and more data will always increase, 802.11ac and its promised Gigabit speeds has for now addressed this requirement. Only in multi-dwelling units such as student accommodation do we really see 802.11.ac being pushed to its potential with most office and public Wi-Fi networks still not needing Gigabit speeds.
So with connectivity, coverage and capacity addressed for the time being what do I think is left to achieve in Wi-Fi? In a nutshell, Security and the challenge of onboarding clients in a secure and easy way. It still amazes me how many networks are still using a pre-shared key or require time consuming setup of the client in order to achieve a secure connection. Most IT departments find it too complicated or clunky to use 802.1X and secure certificates due to the overhead of managing a radius server and certificate server and public hotspots are seriously lacking basic security leaving most users vulnerable to many security and privacy dangers.