IEEE 802.11ah Wi-Fi HaLow Emerges for IoT

Wi-Fi in 2016 is pervasive already, with over 12 billion Wi-Fi enabled devices shipped to date and 3 billion more forecast to ship this year. Helping to fuel Wi-Fi growth in 2016 and beyond will be the market for the Internet of Things (IoT). A key pillar to enable Wi-Fi is the emerging IEEE 802.11ah specification, which the Wi-Fi Alliance is branding as HaLow.

While the Wi-Fi Alliance is making a big splash at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week announcing HaLow, IEEE 802.11ah isn’t yet an official standard. But it will be soon.

“Approval of the 802.11ah standard is expected in mid-2016,” Kevin Robinson, VP of Marketing at the Wi-Fi Alliance, told Enterprise Networking Planet.

The current generation of widely used and deployed 802.11 Wi-Fi standards-based devices work in the 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz spectrum. The target deployment spectrum from 802.11ah is the lower-power 900 MHz spectrum. The lower-power spectrum means a reduction in bandwidth but an increase in range.

“Wi-Fi HaLow’s range is approximately double that of today’s Wi-Fi, and data rates are between 150Kbps and 18Mbps,” Robinson said. “Data rates between 150Kbps and 4Mbps are possible using 1 Mhz channels with 18Mbps, requiring the optional 4Mhz channels.”

The idea of using 900 MHz for wireless transmission is not a new one. In fact, at the DefCon security conference in 2015, security researchers demonstrated how they could potentially evade detection by using 900 MHz-based radio for wireless data transmission.

While 900 MHz is the target spectrum, the Wi-Fi Alliance is emphasizing that the 802.11ah specification will work on devices that also support 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz.

“Wi-Fi HaLow will operate in the 900 MHz band, and many devices that support Wi-Fi HaLow are expected to operate in 2.4 and 5 GHz as well as 900 MHz, allowing devices to connect with Wi-Fi’s ecosystem of installed devices,” Robinson said.

Robinson explained that the smaller channel widths of 802.11ah and their associated lower data rates contribute to the power efficiency of Wi-Fi HaLow devices.

“Wi-Fi HaLow extends Wi-Fi’s portfolio of solutions, so HaLow devices will be capable of supporting a diverse set of applications that cover not only extremely low power, think sensors, but also long range, think smart meters in smart cities,” Robinson said. “While at the same time, devices incorporating traditional Wi-Fi, such as Wi-Fi certified ac, can achieve gigabit data rates to connect demanding, high-performance applications.”

While 802.11ah will interoperate with existing Wi-Fi standards, it will require new silicon and chipsets. Robinson expects that many users will experience the benefits of HaLow through the regular process of replacing their Wi-Fi networks.

The effort to boost Wi-Fi’s prominence in the IoT realm is, in many respects, a competitive shot against other IoT connectivity approaches, most notably ZigBee. Robinson noted that since Wi-Fi HaLow builds on many of the capabilities already found in Wi-Fi today, it provides several other compelling advantages not found in many technologies intended for IoT. Among the advantages Robinson cited is the fact that Wi-Fi HaLow supports IP natively, allowing devices to communicate directly and networks to reach Internet scale.

“Wi-Fi HaLow will provide similar characteristics in terms of battery life compared to other low power technologies, but it will also provide range improvements, making it useful for Smart City applications or Smart Home applications where obstacles create a challenging wireless environment,” Robinson said. “Wi-Fi HaLow networks also scale effectively, with the ability to support thousands of devices per access point.”

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Enterprise Networking Planet and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

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