Wi-Fi Direct: Really Fast but Really Necessary?

Wi-Fi Direct will let you connect devices at 250Mbps, but why bother when you probably already have an 802.11n network?
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Wi-Fi Direct is one of those technologies that sounds like it makes sense, but then if you really think about using it in real life.... well then it doesn't sound so great.

The idea is simple. There are two ways you can do Wi-Fi. There's infrastructure, where you have an access point and a lot of clients and then there's ad hoc, where laptops share network with one another in peer-to-peer mode. Ad hoc, as anyone who uses it knows, has awful throughput but the security is even worse. With Wi-Fi Direct, you get peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connections between devices like camera and a printer without an existing network.

That could be useful for grandma who just wants to get the photos of the new grandkids from her PC to her digital picture frame, except... well how does she do that again? The technology may make this possible, but I don't see much in the way of the all-important implementation details worked out yet.

For everyone else, we already have our Wi-Fi networks right? Do we really need what amounts to a long range, high-speed rival to Bluetooth? I don't think so.

Under the hood Wi-Fi Direct uses the same old Wi-Fi wireless technologies. According to the Wi-Fi Alliance, Wi-Fi Direct will work with 802.11a/b/g/n networks and it all be as easy as pie.

Except, of course, it won't be that easy. There's only so much room in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz ranges. A common networking problem these days is how do you deal with conflicting Wi-Fi networks. Wi-Fi Direct devices will make a best attempt effort to fit themselves into the existing wireless network, but managing them, especially in devices, is going to be a pain in the rump.

Security, at least, won't be a problem. Wi-Fi Direct uses Wi-Fi Protected Setup, IN turn, this uses a push-button o or PIN code-based, quick setup to set up a WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access 2) connection. Older Wi-Fi equipment, so long as they support WPA2, will see and work with Wi-Fi Direct devices as if it they were Access Points.

Regardless of how I feel about this technology, many vendors are already releasing low-level equipment that supports it. These include Atheros, Broadcom, and Intel with chipsets and network interface cards. Where are the devices though that will have these inside them? Good question. I haven't seen or heard of any yet.

I also wonder just how useful they'll prove once they are out. WI-FI Alliance executive director Edgar Figueroa recently said: "Wi-Fi Direct represents a leap forward for our industry. Wi-Fi users worldwide will benefit from a single-technology solution to transfer content and share applications quickly and easily among devices, even when a Wi-Fi access point isn't available."

But, as Sam Diaz pointed out when he wanted to up upload a photo form his phone to his laptop with Bluetooth, "When I asked my phone (and laptop) to find the other Bluetooth device, I came up with a list of more than a dozen devices within range. Having no idea which of those were mine, I scrapped the file-transfer and just did the photo upload later."

Now imagine that instead of Bluetooth range which is measured in feet, you're using Wi-Fi where you measure range in yards. Good luck using Wi-Fi Direct anywhere outside your home. And, as you'll discover when grandma calls, it's not going to be that easy for grandma either.

Of course if you used Wi-Fi Direct to set up a network so you could keep track of all your devices on your wireless LAN and then there wouldn't be a problem. Oh. Wait. We're back to setting up an infrastructure Wi-Fi LAN again aren't we?

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