HaLow, the new version of Wi-Fi, is designed to consume significantly lower power and have twice the range as traditional Wi-Fi, making suitable for the tiny sensors that will gather data in future smart cities. (Image courtesy of EFF Photos/Flickr).
A new version of Wi-Fi is trying to alter the perception that it is not suited for the industrial sensors, wearables, and smart home devices that will keep the Internet of Things (IoT) connected. The Wi-Fi Alliance, the organization that maintains this technology, said that the new version will have greater versatility and reliability than traditional Wi-Fi.
Called HaLow, the new standard is designed to consume significantly lower power and have twice the range as 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi, which is also notorious for straining battery life. Edgar Figueroa, president of the Wi-Fi Alliance, says that HaLow is meant for devices equipped with small batteries but expected to stay on for long periods of time. These range from battery-powered wearables to tiny sensors that gather data in smart cities and factories.
The new capabilities are possible because HaLow operates over the 900 MHz band. Aside from supporting smaller data payloads and lower power consumption, this frequency band also helps signals travel through walls and other obstacles more effectively than the 2.4 and 5 GHz Wi-Fi bands. Now, Wi-Fi will operate over all three bands.
The Wi-Fi Alliance first proposed its 900-MHz version in late 2013, when the latest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ah, was in the early stages of development. In recent years, the enthusiasm around the IoT has sprouted a huge number of standards and technologies to rival Wi-Fi. These technologies are seeking to beat out cellular and other proprietary networks in connecting the billions of devices expected to flood infrastructure, factories, and smart homes in the future.
Many of these rival technologies are well-established or have significant support. Bluetooth Smart, the low-power version of the personal area network technology, is expected to add several IoT features this year, including mesh networking and four times the transmit range. Thread, which is headed by Google’s NEST smart home division, is designed to connect smart home devices. Other major standards in the smart home fray are Z-Wave and ZigBee, which like Wi-Fi has the ability to connect devices to the internet.
For industrial systems, standards like Weightless-N are being designed for ultra-low power and low data-rate devices—allowing battery-powered sensors, for instance, to remain active for years at a time. This standard focuses more on wide coverage and low power consumption than its counterpart Weightless-P, which like other standards trades these benefits for higher throughput. A low-power version of LTE called Cat-M is also in development.
Despite long-held skepticism about Wi-Fi’s impact on the IoT, some analysts are optimistic about HaLow. They say that Wi-Fi’s widespread success has the potential to cut through all the competing standards and even lay the groundwork for a standard IoT technology. The Wi-Fi Alliance says that HaLow’s has the “ability to connect thousands of devices to a single access point,” in addition to the security and interoperability already built into Wi-Fi.
More information about HaLow has not been released yet. HaLow will not start appearing in products until 2018. In the meantime, the Wi-Fi Alliance said that it has several ongoing projects to help incorporate Wi-Fi into more household objects, such as door knobs and vacuum cleaners.