The Wi-Fi Alliance has introduced a new low-power version of Wi-Fi technology, called HaLow, which it says will enable use cases in areas such as the smart home, the connected car, and smart cities. The Alliance also announced plans to launch Wi-Fi location technology that will provide indoor location services similar to Bluetooth beacon technology.
IoT-related applications accounted for many of the Wi-Fi Alliance’s announcements at CES 2016 in Las Vegas in January 2016. It’s easy to see HaLow and Wi-Fi location as competitive responses to ultra-narrowband networks and Bluetooth beacons, respectively. The announcements also follow the introduction in September of a new class of Alliance membership, Implementers, to involve companies that add Wi-Fi to devices but for whom connectivity isn’t a primary focus.
HaLow represents an expansion of Wi-Fi’s capabilities in the home. It operates on the 900MHz band, which the Alliance says will help it better penetrate walls and other barriers to work with devices such as sensors, wearables, and smart meters. It is also designed to solve the problem of maintaining connectivity outside, allowing, for example, users in corporate or enterprise settings to maintain their Internet connection when moving between buildings.
The Alliance is aiming to introduce tri-band Wi-Fi routers that will enable HaLow to operate alongside regular Wi-Fi without interference. However, interference may come from other sources, as certain household devices, such as baby monitors, already operate on the 900MHz band. Also, some countries have reserved the 900MHz band for mobile service, so there’s the danger of interference from that source as well.
That said, HaLow stands a good chance of being accepted for uses in which longer range and lower data transmission are needed. While the main obstacle is deploying tri-band routers that can support HaLow, an ultra-narrowband network, for example France’s Sigfox, would need to deploy a full network to achieve comparable functionality.
Another potential competitor, posing perhaps more of a threat to HaLow, is the Narrowband-LTE protocol supported by Nokia, Ericsson, and Intel. Like HaLow, NB-LTE benefits from an existing network ecosystem, although it is likely to be more expensive than HaLow or other ultra-narrowband networks and would probably be applied to more premium uses.
Wi-Fi location, meanwhile, appears to be a challenge to existing Bluetooth beacon deployments. The Alliance says it will offer a number of advantages over existing technologies, including the ability to deliver precise indoor location data, but it remains to be seen whether the technology will truly deliver a better experience than beacons. On the other hand, working with other existing Wi-Fi technologies, location technology could also help to make the connected home smarter, for example by determining which household members are in which spots and adjusting entertainment or climate options accordingly.
Innovation Primer: Beacons, TE0004-001031 (July 2015)
“Wi-Fi has a place in the connected home ecosystem,” TE0004-00094 (November 2014)
Francesco Radicati, Senior Analyst, Digital Services
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