Wireless LANs based on the "blanket" approach that puts all Wi-Fi base stations on the same channel, could get easier to deploy thanks to an alliance that will pre-validate and tailor software and equipment to put multiple applications on the technology.

The Uni-Fi Alliance, formed by Wi-Fi blanket switch vendor Extricom, is intended to build an ecosystem round the company's switches, and includes vendors working on location systems, voice and intrusion detection. The other founder members are AeroScout, AirTight, Ascom, and KinetoWireless.

The Alliance will ensure interoperability, in advance, so users don't end up as guinea pigs for the new networks and applications. It has already created new code for Extricom switches to work better with partners, according to David Confalonieri, vice-president of marketing at Extricom.

"First and foremost, this is a direct commercial response to what our channel is telling us," he said. "Instead of the customer being the entity that has to experiment, we will prevalidate equipment." Systems integrators will also benefit because they no longer need to all go through the same learning curve.

"In the case of Aeroscout, we wrote special code to provide extra features in our switch that will give better information to their location engine," he said.

The group will also create implementation guidance, for users putting voice or other applications on Extricom WLANs. For example, on a LAN that is used for voice and location applications, there is an optimal spacing for the access points, Confalonieri explained: location systems give the best accuracy when access points are close together, but other aspects of the network can become more complicated to manage.

The members of the group have not all had a religious conversion to Extricom's blankets, said Dennis Tsu, security vendor AirTight's vice president of marketing. "Airtight is agnostic in this area. There are pros and cons to each, and we have partnered with different companies that are taking different approaches. This alliance gives the user the ability to make a purchase decision faster and more efficiently with the full knowledge that the pieces fit together."

"We have already completed interopability testing with Extricom's equipment, so joining the alliance was pretty straightforward," said Steve Shaw, director of marketing at Kineto, the company which makes UMA software to handle Wi-Fi and cellular convergence. "They have a cool product and it works well with UMA-enabled dual-mode phones."

Shaw reckons users will still need to conduct their own validation, but he believes the Alliance will help small businesses to leverage dual-mode handsets more easily. "I think Extricom is getting traction in the market, and the Uni-Fi Alliance is a way to promote a range of applications that are supported on their system."

The group won't overlap with the Wi-Fi Alliance's job of certifying products conform to the underlying IEEE 802.11 Wi-Fi specifications, said Confalonieri.

“While there are established certifications for verifying basic 802.11 component interoperability, there are few industry-standard APIs for linking wireless LANs to upstream applications,” observed Joanie Wexler, an independent analyst and editor at Joanie M. Wexler & Associates. “At least until those emerge, it will reduce enterprise integration headaches if WLAN vendors work out interoperability and implementation issues upfront with the suppliers of IP PBXs, location appliances, security appliances, and other servers that generate application traffic over the Wi-Fi network.”