New 802.11r standard to boost wireless voice

Wi-Fi roaming

The recently ratified 802.11r wireless networking standard is unlikely to have any rapid impact on enterprise mobile services, an industry analyst has claimed.

But 802.11r, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standard that enables Wi-Fi devices to roam between access points on wireless local area networks (WLANs) is still a promising development, according to Rob Bamforth, principal analyst at researcher, Quocirca.

"As communications move towards handsets increasingly not tethered by wires, any standardisation around this area is to be welcomed," he said.

The adoption of voice over internet protocol (VoIP) based wireless services has been held back by the fact that the IEEE 802.11 set of standards were never designed to account for roaming access.

Using existing protocols, it takes VoIP handsets about 100 milliseconds to hand off from one network access point to another, which can lead to security authentication and quality of service issues (QoS).

Also known as Fast Basic Service Set Transition, 802.11r has been in development for the past four years to eliminate these issues.

The new standard enables authentication and QoS to be established at a new access point before handover and in less than 50 milliseconds, which is the maximum standard time stipulated for wireless voice roaming.

Bamforth told IT PRO that telecoms vendors have been moving their wireless voice services in this direction for some time. "This kind of standard is likely to be seen as a big comfort blanket by enterprise-scale users," he said.

"But the problem is how long it will take vendors to adopt the standard and bring out new offerings based on it. And that will come down to the level of their existing VoIP investment and current install base."

Some vendors have chosen to build networks with no VoIP roaming capacity in the absence of the fully ratified 802.11r standard. And others have offered the capability using weaker security authentication standards, like wired encryption privacy (WEP) passwords.

And Wi-Fi Certified Voice-Personal, a branded service launched by the Wi-Fi Alliance earlier this year offering similar capabilities, has so far had limited vendor uptake.

Bamforth said that, ultimately, more secure wireless roaming and faster access point handoffs would be welcomed by enterprise VoIP users.

"But, until the mobile network operators decide to offer any equivalent service based on femtocells and the 802.11r standard is broadly adopted, enterprises will have to continue to cope with using both VoIP and in-building GSM networks for wireless voice," he added.

Miya Knights

A 25-year veteran enterprise technology expert, Miya Knights applies her deep understanding of technology gained through her journalism career to both her role as a consultant and as director at Retail Technology Magazine, which she helped shape over the past 17 years. Miya was educated at Oxford University, earning a master’s degree in English.

Her role as a journalist has seen her write for many of the leading technology publishers in the UK such as ITPro, TechWeekEurope, CIO UK, Computer Weekly, and also a number of national newspapers including The Times, Independent, and Financial Times.