The Wi-Fi Alliance announced the new low-power, long-range version of Wi-Fi that is designed specifically with the Internet of Things (IoT) in mind.
Dubbed Wi-Fi HaLow, the technology is based on the pending IEEE 802.11ah specification and will be used for everything from wearables to smart homes, smart cities, connected cars, basically any application where thousands of battery-operated sensors can be connected to a single Wi-Fi Access Point (AP).
Although exciting, we still have a bit of time to wait before Wi-Fi HaLow comes to fruition. The Wi-Fi Alliance expects to launch a certification process for Wi-Fi HaLow products in 2018, though they expect to see products supporting the specifications hit the market earlier.
Wi-Fi HaLow will be able to easily work through walls and large barriers because of the propagation capabilities of low-frequency radio waves, as it will operate in the unlicensed wireless spectrum below 1GHz. HaLow’s range will be nearly double the range of today’s Wi-Fi, with estimates extending as high as a whopping 3,280 feet.
Wi-Fi HaLow, though innovative, is not designed like Wi-Fi. Instead, Wi-Fi HaLow is rather slow, optimized specifically for IoT applications of the future, where sensors are battery operated and usually only transmit occasional short bursts of data. It’s important to note, though, that none of the existing Wi-Fi radios, routers, laptops, smartphones, etc. will work with this new technology, as it is an entirely different radio.
The 802.11ah throughput will be well below the 7Gbps maximum of Wi-Fi 802.11ac, and equipment designed specifically for Wi-Fi HaLow will only be certified for up to 18Mbps as the highest data rate initially. The lowest rates will be just 150Kbps, achieved by using a 1MHz channel, and in order to get to 18Mbps, device designers will need to use a 4MHz-wide channel. That doesn’t mean that data rates as high as 78Mbps aren’t possible, because they are, if using a a 16Mhz channel, but the Wi-Fi Alliance will only certify devices with up to 4MHz channels to start.
All in all, Wi-Fi HaLow is being created with one thing (or shall I say application, ha), in mind—the Internet of Things. And so with that, its sole purpose is to provide low-power, long-range connections that can carry a signals through concrete walls, to an access point, and on to the rest of the network in the cloud.
Though it is not Wi-Fi, it will share many of the same protocols, including multi-vendor interoperability, strong government-grade security, and ease in set-up, therefore making it fairly easy for developers and consumers to use. The Wi-Fi Alliance experts expect that most devices incorporating HaLow will operate in the standard Wi-Fi frequencies of 2.4-5 GHz as well as this lower 900 MHz range, which will allow devices to connect with the already established Wi-Fi ecosystem of more than 6.8 billion installed devices.