March 23, 2006



Posted: 01.04

Greasing the Wi-Fi Wheel

Wireless Provisioning Services will make wireless connectivity easier and more secure.
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By Eric M. Zeman

Designed to make Wi-Fi hot spots even easier to deploy, manage and use without compromising security and privacy for users, Microsoft is enhancing the wireless networking service in the Windows operating system. Microsoft Wireless Provisioning Services (WPS) technology provides Wi-Fi network providers with a standards-based and integrated platform to simply provision and manage their Wi-Fi hot spots. WPS allows users of Windows XP to connect to Wi-Fi hot spots with a seamless sign-up process and enables a more secure wireless network access.

WPS builds upon Microsoft’s existing support for wireless technology and connectivity in the Windows platforms such as wireless auto configuration, connection wizards and wireless security features such as Protected Extensible Authentication (PEAP) and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) in Windows XP. On the back end, Windows Server 2003 ships with wireless components fully integrated, simplifying deployment, configuration and management. The Internet authentication Service (IAS), which is also called the Microsoft RADIUS server and is included in Windows Server 2003, reduces TCO by allowing administrators to deploy interoperable dial-up, virtual private network and wireless access of choice through standards and without the need for proprietary solutions.

“We are excited to further support wireless connectivity in the Windows platform,” says Jawad Khaki, corporate VP of Windows Networking and Communications at Microsoft. “WPS for Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 offers a more secure standards-based platform for Wi-Fi network providers that can reduce customer acquisition and support costs, while enabling a more secure, branded and easy-to-use experience for mobile users.”

WPS Addresses Wi-Fi Hot Spot Challenges

Gartner estimates that by 2008, 167,000 Wi-Fi hot spots will be available worldwide, with 75 million users. The industry is addressing the task of making the user experience at Wi-Fi hot spots as easy and as secure as possible. Currently, once a Wi-Fi hot spot is located, the task of connecting can be confusing to users, considering that end-user experience varies with each Wi-Fi network provider. In addition, corporate users and consumers have growing concerns about the security of their privacy while connected to a Wi-Fi hot spot.

WPS helps address these problems by enabling seamless and more secure connectivity for mobile users. With WPS Wi-Fi network providers and enterprises send provisioning and configuration information to a mobile client as it connects to the Internet or a corporate network. This way, information workers can have a consistent experience inside the enterprise and across various public network providers and Wi-Fi hot spot locations. As soon as a user logs onto a wireless network, the network will recognize him or her, automatically set up the session, and bill the user’s account.

The security of each wireless session is improved because the automatic authentication and encryption provided by WPS minimizes the chances that a user’s wireless session will be broken into by rogue access points or hackers. WPS builds upon the security investments in Windows Server 2003, which offers a full range of standards-based authentication methods from password authentication to certificate authentication using public key infrastructure.

By using the WPS architecture, Wi-Fi network providers now can more easily offer and manage new, security-enhanced, personalized and branded services at multiple network locations. WPS enables transparent and seamless roaming between provider locations as well as between different providers. The wireless auto configuration service in Windows will automatically choose the correct network belonging to the Wi-Fi network providers based on the provisioning information supplied by the provider.

WPS will be available to users of Windows XP via free download from the Windows Update site in the first quarter of 2004. •
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