The WLAN Roaming "Standard"
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With Wi-Fi networks at the office, the home and the corner restaurant, a number of efforts are being made to allow users to move, or "roam" between the many thousands of access points beaming everything from Internet access to corporate local area networks.
The ability to easily roam from your home 802.11 network, down the street to your Wi-Fi enabled coffee shop and onto the corporate LAN at work has already drawn the attention of two groups.
A collection of around 50 wireless Internet service provider (WISP) and wireless local area network (WLAN) vendors have gathered under the Pass-One banner. The Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA, soon to be called the Wi-Fi Alliance), the group of wireless vendors devoted to putting its seal of Wi-Fi compatibility on 802.11 products, has also entered the roaming race.
Wi-Fi High Stakes
The stakes are high, along with the countless Wi-Fi networks at home, the currently estimated 4,100 public hotspots are expected to mushroom ten fold by 2006, according to researchers at In-Stat/MDR.
However, Redwood Shores, CA-based iPass hopes its new software will leap frog the others by releasing a free "generic interface standard" (GIS) for products that would support roaming.
hereUare, the embattled WISP supporting GIS, says the proposed standard will be a boost for companies wishing to increase their Wi-Fi services.
"GIS enables quick adoption by both Wi-Fi providers and access gateway vendors, making it easy to support companies who wish to offer roaming services across hereUare's Wi-Fi network," said Jim Underwood, Senior Director of Engineering and Chief Architect at HereUare.
Blocking Rogue APs
While iPass believes security is one concern that must be addressed by any Wi-Fi roaming protocol, "GIS doesn't directly block rogue access points," says John Sidline, an iPass spokesman.
"The GIS is designed to be a de facto standard for how a smart client communicates with an access gateway," says Sidline.
GIS, the only option now available for Wi-Fi roaming, provides a gateway allowing a 802.11 user to access different Wi-Fi networks, regardless if the connection is to a WISP, public hotspot or corporate or home WLAN. People now using a WISP like Boingo or WayPort are limited to hot spots on related networks.
Metropolitan airports including Seattle, Minneapolis and Dallas/Ft. Worth are part of iPass' own Global Broadband Roaming (GBR) network of enterprise-related hotspots. The firm has also inked agreements allowing it to reach into five European nations, one Asian country, and Canada.
The Ultimate Gatekeeper
iPassConnect, the software that launches virtual private networks, personal firewalls, policy management and enforcement corporate IT services, may be the ultimate gatekeeper. iPass requires its software not only for your laptop to connect to a hotspot, but also to gain access to an enterprise's WLAN.
"If you encounter a rogue point while using XP, for example," says Sidline, you may be able to connect to the hotspot, "but because you did not access it through iPassConnect, you won't be able to connect to your corporate LAN."
The iPassConnect software will only connect users to hotspots that the company has tested for compatibility with a firm's IT systems -- or in the future, a hotspot that supports GIS.
"Instead of merely sensing these hotspots," says Sidline, "they have to be tested to be included in our client's phonebook," he said. Only hotspots approved by iPass can be accessed from its software.