Microsoft is experimenting with a virtualization architecture for wireless LAN (WLAN) cards that will let Wi-Fi users connect one machine to multiple wireless networks simultaneously.
Analysts are saying the technology promises to solve some of the problems associated with next-generation networks.
With VirtualWiFi, still in the research labs at Microsoft, users will be able connect to a guest's machine or play games over one wireless network, for example, while surfing the Web on another.
In essence, a machine running VirtualWiFi and connected to two or more networks at the same time becomes a router capable of handing its bandwidth off to other PCs in the immediate vicinity.
The virtualization platform works by simulating multiple virtual adapters, one for each wireless network to which connectivity is desired. It then uses a network-hopping scheme that switches the wireless card across the desired wireless networks. The goal of the software is to make the switching transparent to the user.
Microsoft researchers have tested the software in a tool called Client Conduit, which provides a thin pipe of communication between disconnected clients and back-end servers that can perform wireless diagnosis and recovery.
The research is part of Microsoft's mesh-network initiatives that, when they come to market, will give wireless laptops and other mobile devices the ability to relay network signals to other devices along a chain. Essentially, these devices will be able to serve seamlessly as access points for other devices out of range of a standard access point.
According to IDC analyst Abner Germanow, the new software shows promise in addressing some of the disruption issues associated with such networks.
There are two basic types of mesh networks, he explained, client-based and infrastructure-based. "Typically, client cards are connected to the access points in mesh systems, but Microsoft's technology allows the user to connect and switch between multiple networks, establishing an ad hoc network among a client set," he said.
What Microsoft has done with VirtualWiFi is provide an important component in the development of mesh networks. "There are lots of little pieces in these systems, and this software addresses an important issue by letting users connect to multiple wireless networks with a minimum of disruption," he said.