Wi-Fi Direct Promises Device-to-Device Connectivity

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Wi-Fi Direct, the standard for device-to-device Wi-Fi connections without a traditional network, is finally getting out of the gates officially with the Wi-Fi Alliance certifying the first generation of products today.

The initial devices, mostly laptop mini-cards, are now available and testing is open to new gadgets. With certification reviews taking just a couple of days, we could see a number of new Wi-Fi Direct gadgets available for the holidays, provided manufacturers are prepared to include the standard.

Wi-Fi Direct builds off the old adhoc wireless mode many devices were capable of, but includes more security (WPA2) and makes it easier for users to connect two Wi-Fi enabled devices without having a local network. Existing Wi-Fi devices can be upgraded to Wi-Fi Direct with a firmware upgrade, while many new devices will likely have the standard built right in.

You only need one Wi-Fi Direct device to make a connection, which can act like an access point for one or more Wi-Fi enabled machines. This is going to make it easy for two people to share files between laptops, send print jobs from a camera to a printer or push a video from a handset to another Wi-Fi enabled device. It could also be used for home entertainment networking or multi-player gaming. As Stacey pointed out last year, she could back up her computer on her Wi-Fi Direct-enabled hard drive without ever having to jump on a network. And we could also see more peripherals that connect over Wi-Fi instead of traditional Bluetooth.

This again shows the resilience and flexibility of Wi-Fi, which is being deployed for everything from wider area coverage and cellular network offloading to building personal area networks. As we wrote about earlier, 70 percent of Millennials say they spend four hours a day on Wi-Fi, and believe that this is vital for maintaining relationships.

We’re already seeing companies try to tackle some of the things Wi-Fi Direct addresses. Apple and HP have announced a method for printing on networked printers from iOS and other devices. Apple has also unveiled AirPlay, which allows iOS users to move music from an iOS device to speakers and stereo systems and soon beam video to an Apple TV. Intel also released Wireless Display, a way to push your PC content to a TV. But in many cases, the connections are still through an existing wireless network or require an extra piece of hardware such as Intel’s Wireless Display adapter.

With Wi-Fi Direct, we should see more direct solutions that take advantage of the increasing number of embedded Wi-Fi chips. The Wi-Fi Alliance said 82 million Wi-Fi-enabled portable consumer electronics devices and 216 million Wi-Fi handsets will ship this year with 26 percent annual growth projected through 2014.

It remains to be seen how manufacturers implement Wi-Fi Direct. The standard could be limited by manufacturers and wireless carriers, who may be wary of allowing the feature to flourish unfettered. Carriers, for example, could prevent a phone from acting like a Wi-Fi hotspot, something they already do with some Android devices. Let’s hope the major players let Wi-Fi Direct reach its full potential.

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