Enterprise wireless LANs today can be described as controlled chaos: The heat is on for companies to deploy and manage a growing fleet of untethered devices, so you never really know where, how, and what kind of mobile users are going to connect to the corporate WLAN. Meanwhile, wireless network management abilities currently end at access points, leaving devices to fend for themselves.
In response, the IEEE and the Wi-Fi Alliance are working on 802.11v, a standard that aims to calm that chaos by creating an interface that enables a network to be managed and optimized all the way down to client devices, and leverages existing infrastructure and WLAN standards to do it.
The standard, expected to be finalized in mid-2010, should be near top of mind for network administrators and CIOs alike because it can help them get a grip on wireless usage, while potentially saving power and minimizing network disruptions. The benefits of 802.11v are particularly significant as enterprises move toward ubiquitous corporate wireless networks. The standard includes provisions to smooth client transitions between access points, which will not only minimize congestion during busy times, but also boost performance of applications such as wireless voice over IP.
802.11v's Real Time Location Services (RTLS) technology accommodates high-level wireless client tracking. This enables a WLAN to redirect a client to another nearest access point if the one it's on is overworked. RTLS also provides for new location-based services and applications by letting network administrators compile network performance data from clients themselves. Admins can see how well a WLAN is operating, and plan capacity and upgrades accordingly.
A Greener Net
802.11v's Wake-On-WLAN and Wireless Network Management Sleep Mode might "green up" wireless networks as well. 802.11v stands to drastically improve the battery life of mobile devices and may also lower the energy draw from access points. For example, an 802.11v-enabled smartphone could lower power to its wireless radio when it's inactive, then power back up to take a VoIP call or new e-mail. Likewise, inactive access points could run on minimal power and switch to full power when wireless clients are in range.
Given that both the WLAN infrastructure and client devices must support 802.11v to achieve its power-saving and management benefits, it's unlikely that products supporting draft versions of the standard will appear. The first offerings likely will come from vendors that provide both wireless infrastructure and mobile devices, such as Cisco or Motorola.
Furthermore, although 802.11v is designed to complement standards such as 802.11b or 802.11g, it's unclear whether vendors will offer software or firmware upgrades for existing products. Infrastructure vendors likely will add 802.11v to existing wireless controllers and access points as part of ongoing maintenance, but laptop and mobile device manufacturers might not backfill support for the standard into older products. So while 802.11v can enhance the battery life and management of legacy devices, it may only arrive in the next generation of mobile devices.