Can you remember when there was no Wi-Fi at the big coffeehouse chains or the major airports or popular hotels? When it wasn't in most laptops, and if you were looking for a public Wi-Fi signal, you could go all day without finding one?
Now, Wi-Fi is anywhere businesspeople are likely to gather, in the office or not. It's estimated that half a billion users worldwide use Wi-Fi on about 2 billion shipped devices, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance in Austin, Texas, which certifies and promotes Wi-Fi technology standards.
Yet, for all its utility, Wi-Fi is almost too communal. Applications and resources, such as printers, in that networked environment are open to everyone, even if you just want to share them with a few. Public hot spots give you that feeling of swimming in the hotel pool at the end of the day: that you're taking a bath alongside people with whom you wouldn't share the elevator. Office hot spots are the same: Would you skinny-dip with every co-worker and office guest? (Some of them, maybe.)
Wi-Fi has lacked a point-to-point capability to allow direct connection between Wi-Fi devices for specific peer-to-peer applications and controlled access to resources. But, before the year is done, P2P Wi-Fi links could be a reality.
The Wi-Fi Alliance is now working on Wi-Fi Direct, which would allow Wi-Fi users to connect to one another without having to jump into the public pool.
"This will be good if you have an office guest you want to distribute some information to, or have access to a certain presentation," says Edgar Figueroa, managing director of the Wi-Fi Alliance. "You don't have to put it on a USB stick or use a VGA cable on your [off-network] printer." You could even print from your Wi-Fi-enabled smartphone, all with standard Wi-Fi security protection.
Devices embedded with Wi-Fi Direct should be available commercially after mid-year, but the best part is you might not need to buy a new laptop, Figueroa says. "Many Wi-Fi devices will support Wi-Fi Direct without an upgrade, and for others it will be an easy software upgrade."
Dan O'Shea is a Chicago-based writer who has been covering telecom, mobile and other high-tech topics for nearly 20 years.