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802.11n is ready - so go for it!

And take a look at a new way with Wi-fi keys...

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In case you missed it, the Wi-Fi Alliance has announced it will begin certifying products that conform to its particular interpretation of Draft 2.0 of the still-under-development IEEE 802.11n standard.

As you may recall, while 802.11 defines WLAN technology, Wi-Fi is what we buy, and the Wi-Fi specs allow interoperability to be defined and certified. Wi-Fi is perhaps the most important reason why WLANs have become so popular in recent years. Note that the .11n spec is interim, but I think it will carry us for quite some time. I do not expect any major changes in Draft 3.0 and the final .11n standard, and already major enterprise-class WLAN systems vendors like Colubris, Meru Networks and Trapeze Networks have announced .11n products that will ship later this year.

I disagree that we should wait for the final .11n standard to be finished before enterprises start installing .11n; again, we buy Wi-Fi, not an IEEE standard. But be aware, you'll need gigabit Ethernet to interconnect .11n access points, and you may need other network upgrades and enhancements to get the most out of .11n.

There's no need to rush, but .11n belongs in your plans now. And I think you're going to be very impressed with both the throughput and reliability of the .11n products as they gradually become available. By the way, I'm expecting a large number of residential-class .11n products this summer, so you'll have a chance to see what Draft 2.0 products can deliver in the very near future.

Another choice for wireless security?

Whenever I speak or write on the subject of wireless LAN security, I remind everyone that there is really no such thing as wireless security.

Well, OK, there is, but wireless security by itself is hardly adequate as a network security strategy, because wireless security only deals with the airlink - that portion of the network value chain that exists between the client and an access point. The rest of the network - on the other side of the AP - is completely and necessarily unprotected by any Wi-Fi security, and thus I always recommend the use of a VPN of some form for real protection.

But it gets worse - the security keys used by Wi-Fi are fundamentally static, even when WPA is used. Sure, WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) rotates keys, but it still starts with a single key that is shared among all users. When a user needs to be deauthenticated - for example, when someone leaves the firm - it's very difficult to change this key on every remaining machine, and that's a big security hole.

Ruckus Wireless has come up with a clever little solution that it calls Dynamic PSK. Available as part of Ruckus' innovative ZoneFlex SMB WLAN system, Dynamic PSK assigns a unique key to each user. Deactivating a key when needed is simple. And while I still suggest the use of a VPN for optimal security, I think Ruckus has made a terrific contribution to WLAN security ??? one that is definitely worth a look.

Dear Cellular Carriers: About that unified voice mail?

I'm going to appeal, plead, and cajole here - that's the best I can offer when dealing with the big cellular carriers. I have mixed feelings about these guys - on the one hand, they've really improved reliability over the past few years, with fewer dropped calls and system busy indications, and improved data throughput as well.

Prices haven't come down much, but the absurd contractual requirements have become a little less absurd in some cases. On the other hand, they still seem to be a lot more interested in making money than in meeting the customer's needs.

Customer service and tech support are too often problematic at best, and obvious features continue to go missing. My No. 1 request, for example, is unified voice mail. I use several Verizon cell phones, and having to check voice mail on each one is onerous to the point that it just doesn't happen. I'd also like my Verizon Wireless voice mails unified with the Verizon voice mail on my office line. And wouldn't it be nice if the two sides of Verizon actually used the same voice mail system? I'm supposed to remember that I need to use "3" to delete a message on one, but "7" (I think) on the other?

C'mon, cellular operators - help your customer be more productive. It just might help your bottom line in the process.

Craig J. Mathias is a principal with Farpoint Group, an advisory firm specialising in wireless networking and mobile computing. This article appeared in Computerworld


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