How does 802.11r enhance roaming in wireless networks?

IEEE 802.11r, also known as Fast Basic Service Set (BSS) Transition, is a standard that enhances the roaming experience in wireless networks, specifically Wi-Fi networks. Roaming refers to the ability of a wireless device to maintain a continuous connection as it moves between different access points (APs) within the same network. The traditional roaming process can involve a brief disconnection as the device transitions from one AP to another, leading to potential service interruptions.

  1. Introduction to 802.11r:
    • 802.11r is an amendment to the IEEE 802.11 standard, which is the set of specifications governing wireless local area networking (WLAN) communication.
    • It specifically addresses the handover or transition process between APs within the same Extended Service Set (ESS), allowing for a faster and more seamless transition.
  2. Key Concepts:
    • PMK (Pairwise Master Key): 802.11r uses a security mechanism based on the PMK, which is established during the initial authentication phase. The PMK is shared between the client device and the authentication server.
    • FT (Fast Transition): 802.11r employs a method called Fast Transition to reduce the time it takes for a client device to reauthenticate and establish a new connection with a target AP.
  3. Overview of the Roaming Process with 802.11r:
    • When a client device roams from one AP to another within the same ESS, 802.11r helps in pre-authenticating the client with the target AP before it completely disassociates from the current AP.
    • This process involves the establishment of a Fast BSS Transition (FT) by exchanging necessary information between the client, the current AP (source AP), and the target AP.
  4. Key Phases in Roaming with 802.11r:
    • 1. FT Authentication Request (FT-Auth-Req): The client sends an authentication request to the target AP, requesting to pre-authenticate.
    • 2. FT Authentication Response (FT-Auth-Resp): The target AP responds, confirming its ability to support fast transition and providing the necessary information.
    • 3. Key Hierarchy Establishment (FT Key Hierarchy): The client and target AP establish a new key hierarchy for encryption and integrity protection.
    • 4. PMK-R1 and PMK-R2 Generation: Derived keys (PMK-R1 and PMK-R2) are generated, allowing for secure communication during the transition.
    • 5. Fast BSS Transition (FT) Reassociation Request/Response: The client initiates the reassociation process, and the target AP responds, allowing the client to connect seamlessly.
  5. Benefits of 802.11r:
    • Reduced Downtime: The pre-authentication process significantly reduces the time a client device is without a connection during the transition.
    • Seamless Roaming: Users experience smoother and more reliable roaming between APs, enhancing the overall quality of service in wireless networks.
  6. Considerations:
    • For 802.11r to be effective, both the client devices and APs must support the standard. Additionally, it requires proper configuration and support from the network infrastructure.