Wi-Fi Alliance makes WPA3 mandatory for device certification

Beginning July 1, any device that’s certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance must support the latest generation of security, known as WPA3.

The Wi-Fi Alliance announced WPA3 in 2018 and it’s already in many devices. What the organization is now saying is a company can’t certify a device unless it has WPA3 in it. 

That’s delivering on the promise that devices support the highest level of security possible, according to Kevin Robinson, senior vice president of marketing at the Wi-Fi Alliance.

As with earlier iterations of Wi-Fi security, WPA3 comes in different flavors. There’s WPA3-Personal, which is what most people use in their homes, and it’s based on robust password-based authentication. The technology is resistant to offline dictionary attacks, providing stronger protection against password-guessing attempts by third parties. Every guess requires an interaction with the network.

There’s also WPA3-Enterprise, which introduces a 192-bit security mode aligned with the Commercial National Security Algorithm (CNSA) suite; that’s designed for government, financial or other networks transmitting highly sensitive data.

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Wi-Fi gets a lot of flak when it comes to security. Robinson said you have to be careful in what you’re comparing, such as an open Wi-Fi network in a coffee shop to a cellular network using a SIM card.

Wi-Fi can support a wide range of deployment models that cellular cannot, he noted. For example, you won’t find a SIM card in every game player, sprinkler controller or other similar device in a home; that would be impractical. That’s where WPA3-Personal comes into play.

6 GHz band support

The FCC voted in April to make 1,200 megahertz of spectrum in the 6 GHz band available for unlicensed use, but devices are not yet commercially available. Wi-Fi 6E, the brand name for Wi-Fi 6-based devices operating in the 6 GHz band, will be available in early 2021. Robinson said access points supporting the band are likely to come in the fourth quarter of this year.

The Wi-Fi Alliance will be launching its certification program for Wi-Fi 6E devices early next year. “You should expect to see very rapid adoption of 6 GHz,” he said.

IDC expects Wi-Fi 6E will gain traction in 2021 with the adoption of chipsets that target flagship smartphones, PCs, TVs and VR devices. It's an incredibly rapid rate of adoption, particularly when you consider when the spectrum rules were written, Robinson said.

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Indeed, the Wi-Fi industry made significant investments in getting Wi-Fi 6E to market well before the FCC voted on the regulations, taking on some risk. “You can expect the Wi-Fi industry will make those devices available very quickly now that the rules are written,” he said.

FCC commissioners pointed to the heavy reliance on Wi-Fi during the COVID-19 pandemic when they voted to make the 6 GHz band available. “It really brought the point home for how important Wi-Fi is,” Robinson said.