Wi-Fi Direct is officially here, and judging from the hype you'd think it was pretty hot stuff. From what I've seen, though, I'm not impressed.
The technology is designed to allow peer-to-peer WiFi connections between any two devices that support it. It's sort of like the existing ad hoc mode for WiFi networking, except the speed at which two devices find one another and connect will be much faster, as will the actual connection speed.
Both of these issues are a serious problem for traditional WiFi connections, which come in two varieties: slow and slower.
Wi-Fi Direct also claims to have a jump on security concerns. The group behind the standard, the Wi-Fi Alliance , is touting its support for Wi-Fi Protected Setup, which streamlines the process of creating secure connections, and its use of strong WPA2 security. If it works as planned, creating a secure connection between two devices will happen (literally) at the push of a button.
Sounds great, right? Since some Wi-Fi Direct-certified devices are already shipping, and the standard is backward-compatible with existing WiFi standards, it won't take long to try it out for yourself.
Naturally, that won't stop me from telling you how I think this will play out. Wi-Fi Direct has a lot going for it on paper, but in practice I think it's a recipe for mass confusion.
First, if you work in enterprise IT, I suggest that you regard Wi-Fi Direct as a clear and present security threat until it proves itself otherwise. Quick, easy, instantaneous peer-to-peer connections among devices -- printers, cameras, smartphones, tablets, and who knows what else -- sounds like it will be very convenient... especially for people trying to move data they shouldn't be touching to places it shouldn't be going.
Yet there's also a practical issue here, and it involves a couple of things that I have learned from using Bluetooth hardware over the years. First, these "quick, easy, instantaneous" connections tend to fail a good percentage of the time. And when they do fail, trying to troubleshoot the problem is an exercise in futility.
Even if Wi-Fi Direct avoids this problem, it's got another one: its superior range.
Bluetooth connectivity extends a few feet. Even then, you may have multiple devices within range, and those devices often identify themselves in very unhelpful ways. Now Wi-Fi Direct promises to extend the range by an order of magnitude -- and in a world where every device uses this technology, you may need a bit of luck to find the right connection.
I understand why the WiFi standards-making group wants to implement this stuff. They stand to make a ton of money selling hardware that can connect anything to anything else, all without requiring any external networking hardware or access point.
Even so, I look at what Bluetooth has done -- or failed to do -- for our next-generation networking needs, and I have to view Wi-Fi Direct as more of a marketing exercise than as technology driven by any real market demand.