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New Wi-Fi HaLow Spec Announced

In an attempt to make connected wearables and battery-operated IoT consumer and commercial devices more power-efficient with longer range, the Wi-Fi Alliance has announced the new 801.11ah HaLow specification.

Using thinner channels in the lower 900MHz frequency band and fewer network authentication handshakes, a smart battery-operated IoT device using HaLow instead of traditional Wi-Fi will have twice the range and could last years instead of weeks or months.

Wi-Fi HaLow is designed not only for consumer IoT products , but for industrial, retail, agriculture and smart city environments.

“Think of HaLow as a bookend with traditional Wi-Fi,” explained Kevin Robinson, VP of marketing of the Wi-Fi Alliance. “Connections between wearable personal health devices to a smart phone or a medical device to some other monitoring device need a power-efficient wireless technology so they can go months or years on a single charge.”

Wi-Fi HaLow also could prove a competitor to the upcoming Bluetooth Mesh specification for low-power/low-latency control data and low bit-rate audio and video transmissions in smart home environments.

According to Robinson, the first Wi-Fi HaLow certified products will launch in 2018, but interoperational trials already are underway. Robinson noted that, like the usual trickle of pre-certification N and AC Wi-Fi routers that appear months ahead of official affirmation, there are likely to be pre-certification HaLow products released sooner. There may be HaLow preproduction models or HaLow announcements here at CES.

Technically, HaLow is expected to transmit between 150Kbps and 18Mbps — from low control data transmissions to security camera video — in 1, 2, 4, 8 and 16MHz channels in the unlicensed 902-928MHz band. In these lower bands, HaLow will enjoy not only twice the range of traditional Wi-Fi — an estimated 100 meters or more in open environments — but the signal will more effectively pass through concrete walls and other physical barriers than standard higher-frequency 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi signals. HaLow will utilize the same government-grade security standards as current Wi-Fi.

HaLow also is designed to enjoy longer sleep cycles to extend battery life, with fewer pings to the network that also sap power. Like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Direct, HaLow also can be deployed as a point-to-point transmission system rather than continually communicating with the cloud, although an official P2P spec is not expected to be part of the official certification standard.

HaLow also provides a higher-level of scalability; a HaLow access point is designed to support thousands of nodes and hundreds of devices, providing IP connectivity in environments and devices that could not support it previously.

“Wi-Fi HaLow extends the unmatched versatility of Wi-Fi to enable applications from small, battery-operated wearable devices to large-scale industrial facility deployments – and everything in between,” Robinson said.

The Wi-Fi Alliance also is developing a new secure and simple way to connect and configure devices without a display or input mechanisms, as is the case with many smart home devices today. In addition to an expanding list of programs to address specific market needs, the Wi-Fi Alliance recently announced a new membership category that will enable a wider variety of devices not historically thought of as high-tech, including vacuums and door knobs, to include certified Wi-Fi connectivity.