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Wi-Fi challenges Bluetooth for the beacon market

Ira Brodsky | Aug. 26, 2015
Is Wi-Fi Aware sufficiently different and compelling to entice developers?

It’s not surprising that the Wi-Fi Alliance positions Wi-Fi Aware as being able to do everything for proximity engagement that Bluetooth Smart can do — and more. Being able to leverage the vast and growing Wi-Fi infrastructure is a major advantage, but being late to market is a problem. There are at least two leading vendors already offering Wi-Fi access points with integrated Bluetooth beacons (Aruba Networks and Cisco Meraki). The Wi-Fi Alliance’s best strategy for getting the industry to embrace Wi-Fi Aware is to insist that it was worth the wait and any extra effort.

The first Wi-Fi Aware products may not appear until the end of the year, so we won’t know the answers to certain questions until we see the products in action. The Wi-Fi Alliance has put considerable effort into making Wi-Fi Aware power efficient. Will we see small, battery-operated Wi-Fi Aware beacons that are competitive with Bluetooth beacons (which are even available as stickers)? Some proximity engagement markets require a critical mass of users. How long will it be before there are tens of millions of Wi-Fi Aware-capable mobile devices? Finally, will Wi-Fi access points with integrated Wi-Fi Aware have any performance or functional advantages over Wi-Fi access points with integrated Bluetooth beacons?

In 2005, the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) announced that it was working with other industry groups to develop a high-speed mode based on a technology called “ultra-wideband.” However, ultra-wideband development ran into some hitches and the Bluetooth SIG concluded that it made more sense to simply adopt the proven and popular Wi-Fi technology for its high-speed mode.

Given that history, it seems reasonable to ask why the Wi-Fi Alliance didn’t choose a proven and popular technology, Bluetooth Smart, as its proximity engagement technology. After all, the main advantages of Wi-Fi Aware — working with Wi-Fi infrastructure, providing high speed connectivity, and serving bi-directional applications — can all be realized using a combination of Bluetooth Smart and Wi-Fi. Only time will tell if Wi-Fi Aware is a necessary alternative or a missed opportunity.

Beacon developers, what do you think?


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