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Hello HaLow: Your guide to the Wi-Fi Alliance’s new IoT spec

JD Sartain | May 24, 2016
The Wi-Fi Alliance recently announced a new IEEE specification, 802.11ah, developed explicitly for the Internet of Things (IoT). Dubbed HaLow (pronounced HAY-Low), it’s aimed at connecting everything in the IoT environment, from smart homes to smart cities to smart cars and any other device that can be connected to a Wi-Fi access point.

The Wi-Fi Alliance recently announced a new IEEE specification, 802.11ah, developed explicitly for the Internet of Things (IoT). Dubbed HaLow (pronounced HAY-Low), it’s aimed at connecting everything in the IoT environment, from smart homes to smart cities to smart cars and any other device that can be connected to a Wi-Fi access point.

Here’s what you need to know about HaLow.

1. What are the potential advantages of HaLow?

First, HaLow operates in the 900-MHz band. This lower part of the spectrum can penetrate walls and other physical barriers, which means better range than the current 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi bands.

Second, as a low-power technology, HaLow is intended to extend the Wi-Fi suite of standards into the resource-constrained world of battery-powered products, such as sensors and wearables. As analyst Jessica Groopman at Harbor Research points out: "We may be swimming in a sea of connected devices, but most of them can’t hold a charge for more than a day and connecting them to the Internet via Wi-Fi drains their batteries rapidly. And inefficient power consumption isn’t just at the device or battery level. It's also at the connectivity level."

lee ratlif 
Lee Ratliff. Credit: Twitter

Third, says Lee Ratliff, principal connectivity and IoT analyst at IHS, "Along with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi is native to all major mobile platforms and enjoys widespread consumer awareness giving it an enormous advantage against low-power, wireless incumbents such as ZigBee, Z-Wave, and Thread," Ratliff says. 

He adds, "If device manufacturers incorporate tri-band (sub-GHz, 2.4GHz, and 5GHz) Wi-Fi chips into smartphones, tablets, home gateways, and other such products in the future, this may be a sustainable advantage that ultimately makes Wi-Fi a top choice for connectivity in both high-performance and low-power applications."

Finally, "HaLow’s advantage lies in the power of its position in open platforms," continues Ratliff, "So the majority of those platforms will need to incorporate HaLow before that advantage can be brought to bear on the market.”

2. What are some of the technical issues?

Tim Zimmerman, Gartner vice president and research analyst, says it's important to note that a 900 MHz solution requires a separate overlay communication infrastructure of access points which, today, would be separate from existing Wi-Fi access points.

In addition, there are international limitations of the 902-928 MHz band, which could cause segmentation of the band in many areas, including Europe, Australia, and parts of Asia.

From an interoperability standpoint, Groopman argues that the Wi-Fi Alliance is taking its successful standard and throwing another horse into the race to compete with other connectivity protocols less power-consuming than Wi-Fi.

While Wi-Fi is certainly the most widely adopted wireless connectivity protocol, it’s not the only one. "And many argue that it's just not sustainable to support large scale, ubiquitous connected infrastructure, as in smart cities," she says.

 

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