Wi-Fi beyond the hype - Cover Story - Network Magazine India Page 1 of 4
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Wi-Fi beyond the hype
WLANs and Wi-Fi are interrelated terms that have passed the crest of the enterprise technology hype
cycle. Has the technology stabilised? What is new on the WLAN front? Read on for answers to these
questions 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 and
802.11n 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, following
which is an overview of the latest technologies and trends in the WLAN space.
'Live life wirefree', 'productivity with no strings attached'; those were
WLAN adoption in India
is still at a primary level just some of the taglines pushing the Wi-Fi enterprise LAN a couple
of years back. However, the fact remains that Wi-Fi deployment in
have started adopting
Indian enterprises is still immature when compared to its
counterpart, Wi-Fi campus connectivity.
organisations for whom
When examined closely, it can be seen that a majority of
it's business critical to
organisations that have WLANs in place belong to the hospitality and
travel (airports) verticals. In these cases, it is a simple case of
Satish Pendse, CIO, Kuoni Travel Group,
providing additional value to their clients by providing WLAN access.
quot;WLAN adoption in India is still at a primary level although organisations have started adopting [the
technology] selectively. Early adopters are organisations for whom it's business critical to have
WLANs, such as hotels and airports,quot; said Satish Pendse, CIO, Kuoni Travel Group, India.
Apart from these verticals where WLAN is of 'cosmetic appeal' or a factor providing competitive
advantage, 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 ensuring
that users are mobile. quot;Wireless solutions are more feasible for organisations where the network
infrastructure is already in place and there is no buffer for extra cabling. It can also be helpful for the
campus LAN kind of environment where line of sight is not an issue,quot; said Hilal Khan, Manager
Information Systems, Honda Siel Cars India Ltd.
Despite the availability of the technology for the last four years, most Indian organisations are weary
of hearing about the virtues of WLANs. This is largely due to the cost factor. Although WLANs have
decreased in price to a great extent, wired LANs are still much cheaper. Naturally, unless connectivity
needs dictate the usage of a WLAN, Indian companies prefer wired LANs.
Wi-Fi beyond the hype - Cover Story - Network Magazine India Page 2 of 4
Wired LANs also offer a better performance to cost ratio. quot;WLAN speed as compared to Gigabyte
wired LANs is still an issue, especially when one expects to run high bandwidth applications such as
video in the LAN environment,quot; 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 vulnerabilities
emerging every other week, enterprises have become doubtful about just how secure WLANs truly
quot;The key reasons behind organisations not deploying WLANs could be due to investment in existing
infrastructure. Another reason is security concerns, since the data travels through air and not over
wires. This is not a technology problem, but one of perception,quot; 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 popular
perception paints them out to be. Newer WLAN standards such as 802.11g have been developed with
an 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 802.11i
standard promises Robust Secure Networks (RSN) by eliminating earlier vulnerabilities in the 802.11
standard like the RC4 algorithm. quot;With the availability of Wireless Protected Access (WPA) standards,
Wi-Fi devices have become more secure and robust. Therefore the acceptance of WiFi has increased
multifold. 802.11i supports Temporal Key Integrity Protocol (TKIP) and Advanced Encryption Standard
(AES) data encryption,quot; said KVSSS Gunneswara Rao, Director-VoIP, D-Link India
Many security concerns surrounding WLAN deployment may turn out to be groundless if things pan
out the way they are expected. quot;The products need to evolve to address physical security as well as a
gamut of security operations, such as rogue access point detection, since these are not addressed by
the standards alone,quot; 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 enterprise
class 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 the
default security measure to protect data traffic. This
protocol basically uses the RC4 algorithm for
encryption and decryption. RC4 has vulnerabilities
that allow black hat hackers to exploit it.
This is why the 802.11i standard was suggested in
2001 as an addendum to the 802.11 standard to
secure WLANs. During the interim period, when
802.11i was being forged, Wi-Fi Protected Access
(WPA) was formulated by the WiFi Alliance as the
complete 802.11i standard would take time to
Although, WPA was meant to be a superior
alternative to the vulnerability ridden WEP or the
alternative MAC address filtering methods used at