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Wi-Fi Alliance names low-power Wi-Fi HaLow

The Wi-Fi Alliance has chosen Wi-Fi HaLow as the mark vendors can display on products that support low-power Wi-Fi for the Internet of Things.

The Wi-Fi Alliance, an industry association, has adopted the designation Wi-Fi HaLow for products that comply with the low-power Wi-Fi specification developed for the Internet of Things.

The alliance announced the certification program this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Companies that buy products marked Wi-Fi HaLow get the assurance that the technology uses 802.11ah technology developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc., or IEEE.

"This is significant because it provides a global standard for interoperable, low-powered wide area networks," said Lisa Phifer, a tech consultant at Core Compentence Inc., based in Santa Fe, N.M.

Internet of Things (IoT) devices that could use Wi-Fi include appliances and entertainment centers in the home, infotainment electronics and engine monitoring sensors in cars, and medical devices found in healthcare facilities. Devices found in the manufacturing, retail, agriculture and public transportation sectors could also use Wi-Fi for Internet connectivity.

Low-power Wi-Fi proponents said the technology has many advantages over wireless technologies used by IoT devices today. Those technologies include Bluetooth Low Energy, ZigBee and Z-Wave.

Advantages of low-power Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi's advantages include its ubiquity. Most organizations already have a Wi-Fi infrastructure, so adding support for IoT devices would not require learning new wireless technologies.

In addition, adding IoT devices would not burden existing networks, because the gadgets transmit only small amounts of data occasionally. Also, Wi-Fi technology has security built into the chipsets that power wireless access points (APs).

From a technical perspective, 802.11ah has advantages for IoT not found in the typical Wi-Fi used to connect smartphones, tablets and laptops to the Web.

One benefit is the use of the 900 MHz spectrum instead of 2.4 and 5 GHz. The lower bandwidth translates into twice the range and significantly less power usage. In addition, 900 MHz is better at penetrating walls and other barriers.

"11ah significantly increases range at the expense of throughput, aiming to interconnect devices with short bursts of data -- for example, sensor networks," Phifer said.

A second benefit is easy deployment, assuming vendors build support in the same APs used for non-IoT devices.  "It's significance will ultimately hinge upon broad vendor adoption," Phifer said.

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