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article imageNew Wi-Fi standard hopes to connect the Internet of Things

By James Walker     Jan 5, 2016 in Technology
Wi-Fi has evolved several times over the years to offer improved connection speeds and range. A new version of the standard currently under development now looks to take the technology to the Internet of Things by offering low-power connectivity.
The Verge reports that Wi-Fi HaLow is being built as an extension of the upcoming 802.11ah Wi-Fi standard. It is designed to be used when connecting smart, Internet of Things (IoT) devices together, something Wi-Fi isn't currently suitable for.
Manufacturers of products using the IoT often design their devices to be always-on and capable of running for weeks, months or years on a single battery. Wi-Fi requires a lot of power to operate successfully though, an issue which has so far led to few Wi-Fi enabled IoT devices hitting the market.
The most viable alternative is currently Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy (LE). As the name implies, the latest version of the Bluetooth wireless tech is capable of operating with only a tiny amount of power, making it far more at home in a smart thing. This isn't great news for Wi-Fi though and the alliance behind the tech would rather it had a safe place in the Internet of Things.
Wi-Fi HaLow is meant to solve this issue. It's essentially a low energy version of traditional Wi-Fi and is expected to start appearing in certified products by 2018. The technology isn't a simple clone of Bluetooth 4.0 LE though. Because it's based on Wi-Fi, it can overcome some of the most serious limitations of Bluetooth-based products.
HaLow devices will be able to connect directly to wireless routers just like any other Wi-Fi product, providing easy access to the Internet. Devices using Bluetooth currently have to wait for a connected phone, tablet or other Internet-enabled product if they need to access the web themselves. Wi-Fi HaLow also promises greater range and signal strength than Bluetooth 4.0.
Despite all this, HaLow isn't really intended for web browsing or video streaming. It's optimised for handling lots of small requests quickly rather than blistering file transfers, making it more at home telling a smart lightbulb to dim itself than playing YouTube on a smart TV.
Edgar Figueroa, President and CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance, said: "Wi-Fi HaLow is well suited to meet the unique needs of the Smart Home, Smart City, and industrial markets because of its ability to operate using very low power, penetrate through walls and operate at significantly longer ranges than Wi-Fi today. W-Fi HaLow expands the unmatched versatility of Wi-Fi to enable applications from small, battery-operated wearable devices to large-scale industrial facility deployments - and everything in between."
The new technology operates using the 900MHz frequency band, a section not currently used by Wi-Fi. This will keep IoT devices separate from computers and phones operating on the traditional 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands.
As with every generation of Wi-Fi, current products won't be compatible with the 802.11ah standard though. New routers will have to be built before devices can connect and then new phones, tablets and laptops will have to be bought to control IoT products using HaLow.
More about Wifi, Internet, Networking, IoT, internet of things
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