MS plans Wi-Fi enhancements for Windows

Users of Microsoft's Windows XP operating system will soon be able to take advantage of a new software enhancement that the US software company claims will offer faster, easier and more secure access to broadband wireless networks.

With its new Wireless Provisioning Services (WPS) technology, Microsoft aims at helping not only business and private users connect to Wi-Fi hotspots more easily and securely, but also telecommunication operators provision and manage these networks more simply and cost-efficiently, the company said at the Telecom World 2003 conference and exhibition in Geneva.

The event is organised by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), an arm of the United Nations (UN).

WPS technology consists of two components: server software used by telecommunication service providers in the backend; and client server installed on notebooks or other mobile devices, according to Shai Guday, group program manager of wireless and mobility at Microsoft. On the server side, the technology would be included in the first service pack for Windows Server 2003, expected in the first quarter of 2004, he said.

On the client side, it would be available as a downloadable upgrade for both Windows XP Professional and Home, as early as the fourth quarter.

"We already have an internal beta version of Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 available, so operators can begin testing this right away," Guday said. "The same applies for the client side."

The WPS enhancements in both Windows Server 2003 and Windows XP software products would be free to licensed users, he said.

Microsoft points to its own experience operating more than 4000 access points at its campus in Washington, as well as other sites around the world, used by more than 40,000 employees.

To secure these networks, the company had relied heavily on the 802.1x standard, which essentially established a series of rotating security keys for encrypting packets, Guday said. This standard was at the heart of WPS.

The wireless enhancement builds upon other security features as well, such as Protected Extensible Authentication Protocol (PEAP) and Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA). The Internet Authentication Service (IAS), which Microsoft calls the RADIUS server, is included in Windows Server 2003.

In addition to security, WPS allows service providers to send Wi-Fi provisioning and configuration information directly to notebook computers or mobile devices. This service spares users the hassle of making connection adjustments, which often are difficult and time-consuming. As soon as users log on, for instance, the network recognises them, automatically creates a session and bills them.

The wireless configuration service in Windows XP will automatically choose the correct network belonging to the Wi-Fi service provider, based on provisioning information supplied by the provider.

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