WiFi Alliance Shows How to Get Interoperability Done

  • Mike Fratto
    Mike Fratto

    Standards without interoperation don’t address enterprise IT’s primary need.

  • The WiFi Alliance WiFi Certified ac program once again assures WiFi buyers that products will work together.

Ask any IT administrator if standards are important and invariably they’ll say yes. Ask them if interoperation is as important, they’ll say yes again. Press them for which is more important, standards or interoperation, and in many cases they’ll say interoperation. Standards are wonderful things that have both business and technical benefits, but at the end of the day, IT has to deploy and manage products in live environments and seamless interoperation is critical.

There are few organizations that can boast such a successful track record as the WiFi Alliance on what I think is the most critical aspect of standards, interoperability testing. Without their testing and logo programs, we’d likely have very little WiFi interoperation today and even less assurance that enterprise and consumer grade WiFi products would work together. Buy a WiFi Alliance certified product, like the ones coming from new WiFI Certified ac program, which certifies 802.11ac products as interoperable, and you can be assured that it will work. Has the rigorous testing ensuring uniform conformance and interoperation hurt innovative technologies from coming to the market? Certainly not – enterprise WiFi vendors are innovating on performance, security, roaming, and management, providing a rich market place for customer to pick and choose all while ensuring it all just works.

Other technology sectors need similar programs where companies get together in a room, decide how to consistently interpret the standards documents, and then decide on meaningful interoperation. The Metro Ethernet Forum has a similar program for carrier Ethernet and the multi-vendor OpenDaylight project may provide similar benefits as part of the project’s deliverables (OpenDaylight is much more than interoperability) and it’s doing something that the Open Network Forum, which is shepherding the OpenFlow protocol along, hasn’t taken up, yet.

Many standards development organizations (SDO) are very effective at creating the standards that enable interoperation all while managing the political minefields from participants with their own agendas, but none take the extra step to ensuring the standards are actually deployable. Interoperation and conformance testing is punted to someone else. This situation doesn’t apply to just networking, but all of technology.

The WiFi Alliance and its participating members should be applauded for the WiFi Certified ac program, but more importantly they should serve as a shining example of what can be accomplished when competing vendors set aside their differences and come together create a reliable interoperation program.


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