The Repercussions of Wi-Fi Direct to SMBs

Paul Mah

The first Wi-Fi Direct-certified products were unveiled recently by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Understandably eager to capitalize on the popularity of the Wi-Fi wireless networking standard, the Wi-Fi Alliance is using the familiar and widely deployed technology to extend existing Wi-Fi specifications. In a nutshell, Wi-Fi Direct was created for device-to-device wireless connectivity with the range and performance of infrastructure-mode Wi-Fi.


I dug around a little and shared some of my findings in "Understanding Wi-Fi Direct" posted last week. As all good IT managers or CIOs know though, the technical aspect is but one facet of any new technology or product. Beyond the inner workings of Wi-Fi Direct, what are the repercussions of Wi-Fi Direct to SMBs? Let us examine a couple of them today.


The Security Factor


As made abundantly clear by the recent release of the Firesheep add-on, using Wi-Fi without encryption is a disaster waiting to happen. Unlike an Ethernet connection or other wired technologies, wireless signals propagate without regard for cubicles or the outer walls of your company's compound. Indeed, it is highly probably that the same wireless signal fueling productivity in the office is also reaching the hacker sitting in the lobby or in the parking garage.


To be fair, the Wi-Fi Alliance has taken great pains to address security issues. For example, devices that connect to Wi-Fi Direct operate in a "security domain" separate from that of the infrastructure network. As an additional security precaution, access points can also bar Wi-Fi Direct devices from connecting. Yet if there is anything that we've learned from the use of Wi-Fi, it's that administrators and users often expose their network to risk by configuration mistakes or by disabling important features for ease of deployment. And while WPA2 is still considered secure, implementation mistakes and flaws discovered in the past have effectively left WEP and WEP2 useless where security is concerned.


Superimpose some of the security issues that I've just highlighted over the new peer-to-peer-capable Wi-Fi devices that will soon flood the market, and you catch a glimpse of what might go wrong. Ultimately, an infected system is a danger to the entire network, and Wi-Fi Direct has just become another potential attack vector. In addition, any shortcomings will only be exacerbated by the increased range of Wi-Fi signals.


Congestion in the Air?


It hardly takes a rocket scientist to realize that available bandwidth in the 2.4GHz or even the less crowded 5GHz spectrum is not unlimited. Already, the sheer popularity of Wi-Fi means that an increasing number of computers, gadgets and smartphones come with built-in Wi-Fi support-and users are actively hopping onto them.


While I've never tried to find out how many client devices a typical access point can support, figures I've obtained from some vendors hint at a maximum of just 20 to 30 devices. That's not high at all, and could be easily saturated with about 20 laptops, a dozen tablets, and some smartphones connected via Wi-Fi. With this in mind, SMBs might want to keep their wired Ethernet ports around for just a while longer.

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