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Wi-Fi: You old new smoothie?

Oblivious IEEE waves through standard for dead dream

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The IEEE has formally approved 802.11r, the amendment to the Wi-Fi standard that allows devices to smoothly transition between Wi-Fi hotspots without breaking the flow of conversation.

802.11r allows a mobile device to move smoothly between hotspots, with connections never suspending for more than 50 milliseconds. Inaudible to the human ear which is presumed to be making use of such connectivity, the standard was published last month, but manufacturers are only now starting to show an interest.

It's strange to think that Wi-Fi was once considered a serious threat to mobile telephony, but there was a time when city-spanning Wi-Fi networks promised to carry phone calls for free, if only there was a decent hand-off between cells. 802.11f provides a fast enough hand-off for data services, but that can take a second or two if cryptography is being used, so 802.11r was kicked off in 2004 to provide consistent connections.

These days no one seriously expects Wi-Fi to challenge the network operators, indeed the reverse is more likely to be true, but enterprises might be convinced to deploy VoIP solutions based on Wi-Fi thanks to the new standard.

Earlier this year the Wi-Fi Alliance tried to create interest in using VoIP over Wi-Fi with their "Voice-Personal" certification, which has been largely ignored by VoIP users and manufacturers alike. Now that 802.11r has been completed, the Alliance will likely create some sort of enterprise-level certification that will mandate 802.11r conformance.

As femtocells start to provide the same functionality with less complexity, and cellular networks ramp up speeds to match the real-world performance of Wi-Fi, it's probably time for Wi-Fi to concentrate on the data services it delivers so well and leave voice traffic to the professionals. ®

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