October 15, 2009, 9:33 AM — The Wi-Fi Alliance announced a new wireless networking specification which will enable devices to establish simple peer-to-peer wireless connections without the need for a wireless router or hotspot. Wi-Fi Direct has a wide array of potential uses, many of which encroach on Bluetooth territory and threaten to make the competing wireless protocol obsolete.
The new spec, previously referred to by the codename 'Wi-Fi peer-to-peer' (does it count as a 'codename' if it is just called what it is in the simplest possible terms?), will be finalized soon and the Wi-Fi Alliance expects to begin certifying devices as Wi-Fi Direct compliant by mid-2010.
"Wi-Fi Direct represents a leap forward for our industry. Wi-Fi users worldwide will benefit from a single-technology solution to transfer content and share applications quickly and easily among devices, even when a Wi-Fi access point isn't available," said Wi-Fi Alliance executive director Edgar Figueroa. "The impact is that Wi-Fi will become even more pervasive and useful for consumers and across the enterprise."
In theory peer-to-peer wireless networking already exists. In addition to connecting to wireless routers or hotspot networks, many wireless devices are capable of creating an ad hoc network-- basically a peer-to-peer wireless network between two devices.
Ad hoc wireless networking has always been more complex and cumbersome than it is worth, and it maxes out at 11 Mbps. Wi-Fi Direct will connect at existing Wi-Fi speeds -- up to 250 Mbps. Wi-Fi Direct devices will also be able to broadcast their availability and seek out other Wi-Fi Direct devices.
Wi-Fi Direct devices can connect in pairs or in groups. With Wi-Fi Direct only one of the devices needs to be compliant with Wi-Fi Direct to establish the peer-to-peer connection. So, for example, a Wi-Fi Direct-enabled mobile phone could establish a connection with a non-Wi-Fi Direct notebook computer to transfer files between the two.
Wi-Fi Direct overlaps into Bluetooth territory. Bluetooth is a virtually ubiquitous technology used for wireless connection of devices like headphones, mice, or the ever-popular Bluetooth earpiece sticking out of everyone's head. Bluetooth uses less power, but also has a much shorter range and slower transfer speeds. Wi-Fi Direct can enable the same device connectivity as Bluetooth, but at ranges and speeds equivalent to what users experience with existing Wi-Fi connections.