Wi-Fi Direct backers hope enhanced standard makes more products work together

The Wi-Fi Alliance has started work to make it easier to write applications that use the peer-to-peer standard

The Wi-Fi Direct Services specification that the Wi-Fi Alliance plans to finish next year should help to extend the use of Wi-Fi Direct beyond proprietary implementations, the organization says.

The emerging specification, in the early stages of development at a newly formed task group, is intended to help developers write software for core uses of Wi-Fi Direct such as printing and file transfer. The Alliance's executive director discussed the work in an interview last week with IDG News Service.

Wi-Fi Direct was introduced in 2010 and is available in more than 1,100 certified products, according to Kelly Davis-Felner, marketing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance. The technology allows Wi-Fi devices to communicate peer to peer without having to set up a LAN or go through an access point. The list of certified products includes laptops, smartphones, TVs, printers and other devices.

However, there aren't enough implementations designed for use between products from different vendors, said Davis-Felner.

"What we're seeing is that member companies are using it for ... proprietary solutions," Davis-Felner said. "They're enabling things that work from a single vendor's handset to a television, or a single vendor's set-top box to a television."

That essentially defeats the purpose of having a standard, which typically is to make a lot of new products from different vendors more attractive because they can work together.

According to Davis-Felner, it was member companies of the Wi-Fi Alliance that decided Wi-Fi Direct needed to be enhanced.

"We need to build on the certification program to foster the development of (multivendor) services, particularly for ... some of those key use cases that were envisioned when we initiated Wi-Fi Direct," Davis-Felner said. Those included printing, file-sharing, data synchronization and playing video games, she said.

One problem that some users have had is being alerted to the presence of a nearby Wi-Fi Direct device, such as a printer, but finding that it can't talk to their own device over Wi-Fi Direct. The hooks that vendors can use to make their products work with other Wi-Fi Direct devices haven't been well enough defined, an engineer who works with the Wi-Fi Alliance said last week. Ideally, users should see only devices that they can actually use.

To make more products work together, the Alliance plans to define a more robust services platform that will make it easier for developers to write applications that use Wi-Fi Direct, she said.

Davis-Felner emphasized that this new work will build upon the current standard and future products will be backward-compatible with earlier Wi-Fi Direct gear. No changes will be made to hardware.

The Wi-Fi Alliance needs to do a better job raising awareness of Wi-Fi Direct, industry analysts said.

"The opportunity has not really met its potential to date," Farpoint Group's Craig Mathias said. He attributes that mostly to a weak marketing effort.

"The Wi-Fi people have done a great job of getting the technology embedded in everything we use, but they've done a terrible job of making that useful beyond connecting to a centralized network," said Avi Greengart of Current Analysis.

They run the risk of being pre-empted by the vendor-branded applications that use Wi-Fi Direct, Greengart said. It's also possible that other short-range wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth and Zigbee, could take Wi-Fi's place for some of these uses, he said. That would be unfortunate, because so many products already have Wi-Fi hardware and the chips are inexpensive.

"If you could properly leverage the Wi-Fi installed base ... you'd have a much higher chance of success," Greengart said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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