Direct connections

Date:26 October 2012 Tags:, ,

I noticed my friend beaming a video from his phone to another friend’s phone, but neither device was connected to a wireless router. How is this possible?

A Your friends are probably using Wi-Fi Direct, a relatively new standard from the Wi-Fi Alliance that allows you to share  content – including big files such as movies – without an Internet connection. Unlike conventional Wi-Fi, which is  primarily used for getting online, Wi-Fi Direct is intended for sharing media across platforms and doesn’t require routers or access points. Its closest analogue is old-fashioned ad hoc  networking, an early Wi-Fi option that linked two or more devices directly – without stopping at a router along the way.

According to Greg Ennis, technical director of the Wi-Fi Alliance, Wi-Fi Direct updates the ad hoc concept. “Ad hoc networking doesn’t really support the latest Wi-Fi advances,” he says. Wi-Fi Direct is easier to set up, more secure, and way faster – it can move data at up to 250 megabits per second; traditional ad hoc is limited to 11 Mbps. Wi-Fi Direct is also significantly faster than Bluetooth, which typically tops out at 3 Mbps, and it has a longer range (60 metres to Bluetooth’s 10). So for a quick and easy transfer of a big file, it’s definitely the way to go.

But how do you know if your device has this particular Wi-Fi flavour? There are more than 1 000 Wi-Fi Direct-certified products (you can check them out on the Wi-Fi Alliance’s Web site), including phones, printers, computers and more, but a Wi-Fi Direct network requires only one of the participating devices to have the certification.

Because the Wi-Fi Direct standard has WPA2 data encryption built in, forming a connection requires authentication from each participant in the network. To get permission, one device must ask the other for access; the second device must then actively allow the network to form. With a Wi-Fi Direct-certified printer and Wi-Fi-certified computer, for instance, that generally means pressing a button on the printer and clicking “accept” on the computer.

With smartphones, accepting may just mean tapping “okay” on the screen. (And don’t worry about accidentally beaming scandalous photos or anything else you don’t want others to see later on as the sharing ends as soon as the Direct link is broken.)

Right now, Wi-Fi Direct is best for things such as photo sharing among a group of people or for streaming content, such as music, from one device to another. The Wi-Fi Alliance is also touting Miracast, the latest use of the technology, for screen sharing – beam directly from your phone or tablet to your TV, for instance. For now, though, your best bet on getting in on the video sharing is picking up a Wi-Fi Direct-certified laptop (HP has one) or a phone such as Samsung’s Galaxy S III.

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