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Wi-Fi Alliance: The rapid growth of Wi-Fi and the need to secure wireless devices

Jan 16, 2024 | Blog
With digital transformation only accelerating with the Covid-19 pandemic, organizations across industries are looking for ways to support demands for increased wireless connectivity — including telehealth devices, smart manufacturing IoT sensors, at-home connectivity, and virtual reality gaming. Whether organizations are in healthcare, retail, manufacturing, hospitality, or many other sectors, wireless connectivity has transformed day-to-day operations.

One of the primary ways of enabling connectivity has been through Wi-Fi. And according to the Wi-Fi Alliance, the use of Wi-Fi is set to expand dramatically. Between the increased adoption of Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E, increased security with WPA3, and solutions like Passpoint to help bridge the gap between Wi-Fi and cellular, billions of new devices will connect wirelessly in 2021. With this trend, organizations will be able to enable connectivity in more ways than ever — but will also face the challenge of gaining visibility into, and securing, the hundreds (or thousands) of devices that may be connected to their networks — knowingly or not. Here are the factors driving the adoption of Wi-Fi and wireless connectivity.

The global growth of Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi 6E

While Wi-Fi is nearly ubiquitous, Wi-Fi 6 is at the cutting edge. As the Wi-Fi Alliance notes, Wi-Fi 6 offers greater performance, lower latency, and advanced connectivity for enterprise networks and at home. As a result, Wi-Fi 6 is enabling more state-of-the-art network deployments than ever before; in all, 2021 will see nearly 2 billion Wi-Fi 6 devices shipped. This will accelerate wireless adoption across numerous access points and endpoints — from PCs and smartphones to IoT devices, in market verticals from healthcare (telehealth) to industrial.

Meanwhile, the arrival of Wi-Fi 6E will see greater availability of 6GHz spectrum. This, according to the Wi-Fi Alliance, will spur innovation and new use cases in sectors like unified communications and telemedicine — and, crucially, will help wired industrial environments transition to wireless IoT with higher-bandwidth applications. As a result, Wi-Fi 6E will represent a tipping point in many industries for wireless adoption and will see companies deploy numerous new IoT use cases.

The narrowing gap between Wi-Fi and cellular

At the same time, wireless technologies are becoming more integrated and compatible. With the introduction of technologies like Wi-Fi Passpoint, for example, wireless devices can seamlessly switch between cellular and Wi-Fi networks, without the need for manual intervention by users to reauthenticate into the new networks. With this ease of connectivity, business across industries will not only see greater adoption of wireless devices, the Wi-Fi Alliance predicts, but also see broader next-generation wireless applications that span entire enterprises, cities, and the globe.

The need to account for every wireless device

The growth and increasing availability and variability of Wi-Fi options has been a boon for businesses over the past year, as they have scrambled to enable digital connectivity for many services and devices. But with this opportunity comes the challenges of visibility and security. With the plentitude and variety of wireless devices — from IoT sensors, to telehealth devices, to in-store retail technologies, to virtual entertainment — it has become challenging to even identify every device in an enterprise environment, much less understand and respond to the most critical security threats. For businesses to continue to protect their assets as they enable connectivity, they will need to find new strategies to assess and mitigate cyber risk.

At a basic level, this means gaining visibility into every wireless device, across numerous protocols, operating systems, and frequencies — and particularly for non-standard ranges, which are seeing an uptick with technologies like Wi-Fi 6E. Second, it means obtaining the ability to identify and rank the security vulnerabilities of each device, by order of severity to the business. From there, businesses must be able to automatically respond to threats in real time, such as through the use of proactive alerts that respond to deviations in policy. Only then can organizations ensure that their wireless devices and networks are secure, as they double down on enabling connectivity for all manner of wireless devices.

If you’d like to learn more about how companies are securing the growing volume of wireless devices across Wi-Fi, cellular, and many other protocols, read our white paper: The Emerging IoT Cybersecurity Crisis

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