The Wi-Fi Alliance expects to certify its WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) set of specifications by May, in the first of several efforts to provide greater security to users of high-speed wireless networks.
WPA is a subset of the 802.11i security standard, which has yet to be approved by the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers).
The alliance, launched in 1999 as a nonprofit organization to certify interoperability of IEEE 802.11 products, expected approval from the standards body as early as the third quarter of this year, according to Brian Grim, marketing director for the alliance.
Around a month after that, the group will begin its certification program, ensuring that all Wi-Fi products of its members are interoperable. Products with 802.11i-standardised security features should be available later in the fourth quarter.
Once approved and certified, the 802.11i standard will be called WPA2 and will be backward compatible with WPA.
The alliance also expected the IEEE to approve the faster 802.11g standard by June or August, said Andrea Vocale, a technical expert with the alliance and also business development manager of wireless networking at the Cisco Systems' UK subsidiary.
"Once the standard has been approved, we can move ahead quickly with the certification," he added.
The first "unplug fest", which gives developers and other groups time to work with the 802.11g standard, has already taken place, Vocale said, a\lthough he declined to comment on the results. The goal of the "fest" is to work out technical bugs.
The 802.11g standard, operating in the 2.4GHz band, provides speeds up to 54Mbps (bits per second). It will be backward compatible to the widely used 802.11b standard, operating in the same band but offering speeds up to 11Mbps.
The 802.11a standard, which occupies the 5GHz band, also provides speeds up to 54Mbps.
The Wi-Fi Alliance intends to drop the 802.11 a, b and g classifications and replace them with the frequency and speed of each wireless access service in its Wi-Fi zone programme, informing users of certified Wi-Fi locations.
A Wi-Fi Zone sign posted at relevant hot-spot locations will show arrows pointing to the available wireless services. The services include 11Mbps and 54Mbps transmission in the 2.4GHz range, and 54M bps service in the 5GHz range.
The Wi-Fi Alliance officially opened its zone-finding search engine yesterday, Vocale said. The search engine, found at the alliance's website www.wi-fi.org, will list all hotspots that meet specific criteria to ensure quality service. "We've just started to collect information on the many locations around the world, so what you see in our database today is just the beginning," Vocale said.
The US and Europe each have between 2,000 and 3,000 public hotspots and Asia around 5,000, Vocale said. "But this year will be the year of the wireless Internet. We expect many more thousands."
As for any one of the 802.11 standards pushing the other aside, Vocale said that each had its own advantages. The 802.11a standard, which some experts believe could be eclipsed by the equally fast 802.11g, could find its niche in the home market, supporting video streaming and multimedia applications.
Chip makers will likely put all three 802.11 standards on the same silicon and allow Wi-Fi equipment vendors to activate whichever standard or standards they wish, Grim said.
In Europe and Asia, Wi-Fi will be a "service provider's play", with smaller network companies likely to dominate the US market, Vocale said.