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Looking for something nearby? Wi-Fi Aware could find it for you

Stephen Lawson | July 15, 2015
A new feature of Wi-Fi could help people find both each other and things nearby, without even being near a hotspot.

Here's how the system works: A device's Wi-Fi radio sends tiny messages over its normal frequencies, looking for other Wi-Fi Aware devices and services within normal Wi-Fi range. When multiple devices with the technology find each other, they form clusters that share a "heartbeat" that determines when the radio goes to sleep and when it wakes up to communicate with the others. The heartbeat saves the devices from having to constantly send out messages, which could drain their batteries.

Consumers will use Wi-Fi Aware through applications and will only advertise their presence or look for services if they opt in, Robinson said. Apps can encrypt the data they send over Wi-Fi Aware, he said.

There might be a way for someone to spoof a Wi-Fi Aware device so apps will communicate with it, but the system wouldn't make users much more unsafe than they already are, Farpoint's Mathias said.

"Until we build secure operating systems, nothing matters," he said. "This is not a greater threat in and of itself."

All most people will need to start experiencing Wi-Fi Aware is a firmware upgrade and an app that uses it, Robinson said. It'll be up to device makers to make those firmware upgrades available and build future products with Wi-Fi Aware parts. The Alliance has so far certified hardware components from Broadcom, Intel, Marvell and Realtek to work with the technology.

 

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