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Wi-Fi Beyond the Hype

Wi-Fi Beyond the Hype

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Wireless
Wi-Fi beyond the hype
WLANs and Wi-Fi are interrelated terms that have passed the crest of the enterprise technology hypecycle. Has the technology stabilised? What is new on the WLAN front? Read on for answers to thesequestions and more. by Anil Patrick R
The Wireless LAN (WLAN) is a technology that has been much talked about, perhaps even overhyped.From its first successful foray as 802.11b in the enterprise segment to the proposed WiMax and802.11n standards, the technology has evolved rapidly. This makes it a good time to take stock of what is happening on the WLAN front.The discussion starts with a look at the inroads that WLANs have made within India Inc, followingwhich is an overview of the latest technologies and trends in the WLAN space.
WLAN-India.org
'Live life wirefree', 'productivity with no strings attached'; those were just some of the taglines pushing the Wi-Fi enterprise LAN a coupleof years back. However, the fact remains that Wi-Fi deployment inIndian enterprises is still immature when compared to itscounterpart, Wi-Fi campus connectivity.When examined closely, it can be seen that a majority of organisations that have WLANs in place belong to the hospitality andtravel (airports) verticals. In these cases, it is a simple case of providing additional value to their clients by providing WLAN access."WLAN adoption in India is still at a primary level although organisations have started adopting [thetechnology] selectively. Early adopters are organisations for whom it's business critical to haveWLANs, such as hotels and airports," said Satish Pendse, CIO, Kuoni Travel Group, India.Apart from these verticals where WLAN is of 'cosmetic appeal' or a factor providing competitiveadvantage, WLAN implementations have been need-specific. For instance, many Indian manu-facturers use WLANs on the shop floor to avoid strewing cabling across the work area while ensuringthat users are mobile. "Wireless solutions are more feasible for organisations where the networkinfrastructure is already in place and there is no buffer for extra cabling. It can also be helpful for thecampus LAN kind of environment where line of sight is not an issue," said Hilal Khan, ManagerInformation Systems, Honda Siel Cars India Ltd.Despite the availability of the technology for the last four years, most Indian organisations are wearyof hearing about the virtues of WLANs. This is largely due to the cost factor. Although WLANs havedecreased in price to a great extent, wired LANs are still much cheaper. Naturally, unless connectivityneeds dictate the usage of a WLAN, Indian companies prefer wired LANs.
WLAN adoption in Indiais still at a primary levelalthough organisationshave started adopting[the technology]selectively. Earlyadopters areorganisations for whomit's business critical tohave WLANs
Satish Pendse, CIO, Kuoni Travel Group,India
Page 1of 4Wi-Fi beyond the hype - Cover Story - Network Magazine India16-Dec-07http://www.networkmagazineindia.com/200501/coverstory03.shtml
 
 
Wired LANs also offer a better performance to cost ratio. "WLAN speed as compared to Gigabytewired LANs is still an issue, especially when one expects to run high bandwidth applications such asvideo in the LAN environment," said Satish Pendse.Concerns about security have also hampered widespread WLAN adoption. The first 802.1x standard,802.11b, is better known for its lack of security than anything else. With 802.11b vulnerabilitiesemerging every other week, enterprises have become doubtful about just how secure WLANs trulyare."The key reasons behind organisations not deploying WLANs could be due to investment in existinginfrastructure. Another reason is security concerns, since the data travels through air and not overwires. This is not a technology problem, but one of perception," said Shrikant Patil, Director(Solutions), South Asia, Intel.
A change for the better
It is necessary to emphasise at this juncture that WLANs are no longer as insecure as popularperception paints them out to be. Newer WLAN standards such as 802.11g have been developed withan emphasis on rectifying the earlier loopholes associated with 802.11b.Additionally there are efforts like 802.11i that attempt to bolster 802.11x security. The new 802.11istandard promises Robust Secure Networks (RSN) by eliminating earlier vulnerabilities in the 802.11standard like the RC4 algorithm. "With the availability of Wireless Protected Access (WPA) standards,Wi-Fi devices have become more secure and robust. Therefore the acceptance of WiFi has increasedmultifold. 802.11i supports Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) and Advanced Encryption Standard(AES) data encryption," said KVSSS Gunneswara Rao, Director-VoIP, D-Link IndiaMany security concerns surrounding WLAN deployment may turn out to be groundless if things panout the way they are expected. "The products need to evolve to address physical security as well as agamut of security operations, such as rogue access point detection, since these are not addressed bythe standards alone," said Philip Goldie, Product Marketing Manager, Security & Mobility Solutions,Asia Pacific, Nortel Networks.See Box: The power of i to learn more about 802.11i, which promises the long overdue enterpriseclass security for WLANs.
The power of i
The 802.11i security standard was proposed in 2001,as an addendum to the 802.11 standard. However,this standard to create Robust Secure Networks(RSN) was ratified only in June 2004.To understand what is radically new about 802.11i,we have to start with what was wrong with 802.11.802.11 uses Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) as thedefault security measure to protect data traffic. Thisprotocol basically uses the RC4 algorithm forencryption and decryption. RC4 has vulnerabilitiesthat allow black hat hackers to exploit it.This is why the 802.11i standard was suggested in2001 as an addendum to the 802.11 standard tosecure WLANs. During the interim period, when802.11i was being forged, Wi-Fi Protected Access(WPA) was formulated by the WiFi Alliance as thecomplete 802.11i standard would take time todevelop.Although, WPA was meant to be a superioralternative to the vulnerability ridden WEP or thealternative MAC address filtering methods used at
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Here to stay
Overall, 802.11b still remains the most commonly used WLAN standard in India. When it comes tonew WLAN implementations, 802.11g is the preferred standard.The 802.11g WLAN protocol has a maximum data transmission speed of 54 Mbps as opposed to802.11b's 11 Mbps. "802.11b gives a theoretical 11 Mbps, and a real-world 4-5 Mbps This means thatin a shared situation, one could get speeds at the 1 Mbps level, or lower," said Devendra Khamtekar,Principal Consultant, Cisco Systems, India & SAARC.This is acceptable for providing Internet access but not for office LAN connectivity where there are alarge number of users who are used to higher speeds on wired LANs. "On the other hand, 802.11ggives a maximum of 54 Mbps or 20-25 Mbps in the real world. It is optimal for multi-user officenetworks," said Khamtekar.Another reason behind 802.11g's appeal is its operation in the unlicensed 2.4 GHz operationalfrequency band. In India, the licensed 5 GHz band is largely reserved for radar and satelliteapplications. This has proved to be a major deterrent for Indian companies wishing to adopt the802.11a standard (the WLAN standard competing with 802.11g). Standards based on 2.4 GHz(802.11b/g) have done better than the 5 GHz standards (802.11a) due to such licensing issues. “Today you get everything that 802.11a can offer through 802.11g (using a licensed frequencyspectrum). Users are not keen on going in for 802.11a," said Gunneswara Rao.
In the works
If the industry’s development on various standards is anything to go by, there is considerableexcitement in store when it comes to WLAN technology. As of now, QoS issues are a taboo topic whenassociated with WLANs. The 802.11e standard promises to take care of that by defining QoSmechanisms to support voice and video traffic over WLANs. This protocol is expected to be ratified bymid 2005. "Without a doubt, voice and multimedia are the killer applications for wireless and againthere are issues both in terms of standards as well as products. Once 802.11e is ratified and deliveredin terms of real products, we'll see voice and multimedia become a truly viable killer application forWLANs," said Philip Goldie.Talking about performance, one cannot ignore 802.11n, an upcoming standard that's expected todeliver speeds of 108 Mbps—double today's best—by 2007.802.11r is yet another standard that promises to provide fast roaming between access points. Thisone's also expected to be finalized by 2007.
Anil patrick R can be reached at: anilpatrick@networkmagazineindia.com
that time, and was based on already available partsof the 802.11i standard, it still uses RC4 and hasvulnerabilities such as Pre-Shared Keys (PSK) thatmake it susceptible to dictionary attacks if shortpasswords are used.The 802.11i standard does away with RC4altogether. However, the biggest strength of 802.11ias opposed to WEP or WPA is the AdvancedEncryption Standard (AES). AES offers greatersecurity than WEP and WPA. In fact, it is moresecure and faster than Triple DES. 802.11i alsofeatures the Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP).
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