Mobile Wi-Fi Gets a Boost from New Roaming Standards

While dropped calls have become a running joke in cell-phone advertising, at least one form of wireless communication may be about to get better.

This summer, the IEEE quietly approved amendments to its Wi-Fi standards that will help wireless devices in motion achieve a more seamless connection. The 802.11r, otherwise known as fast basic service set (BSS) transitions, reduce roaming time to a fraction undetectable to the human ear. The faster handoff will improve the quality, reliability and security of connection for mobile Wi-Fi devices.

The new standards will find their primary application to voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) telephony devices or, in simple terms, mobile phones that connect to a wireless Internet network. Unlike cellular phones, which roam between base stations with ranges of hundreds or thousands of yards, these Wi-Fi VoIP phones shift between access points whose range is considerably less, sometimes measured in feet. For devices that are moving rapidly, in a car for example, this could require a handoff between points every few seconds.

Roaming delays under 802.11 networks typically average in the hundreds of milliseconds (ms), a seemingly infinitesimal amount of time. However, the human ear is a precise instrument, and delays must not exceed 50 ms to avoid detection. The new 802.11r standard allows devices to establish security and quality of service (QoS) before making a handoff, all in under 50 ms. This avoids noticeable breaks in connections, or “hiccups,” as well as loss in quality, or in some cases, dropped connections.

Now, if only cell phones could do the same.

About the Author

Rick Laezman

Freelance Writer
Rick Laezman is a Los Angeles-based freelancer writer. He has a passion for renewable power. He may be reached at .

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