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Wi-Fi Gets Friendlier

Austin, Texas – Mobile devices and cameras equipped with Wi-Fi Aware proximity-awareness technology developed by the Wi-Fi Alliance would be able to automatically detect other Aware devices and share content, engage in multiplayer gaming, or receive localized in-store promotional information via Wi-Fi Direct, the group announced.

The alliance begins this week to certify devices that meet the standard and expects mobile devices and apps to be available later this year.

The group also sees the potential for uses in the home automation market.

Wi-Fi Aware “delivers always-on, real-time discovery of what’s available nearby,” said Wi-Fi Alliance president/CEO Edgar Figueroa. Mobile devices running Aware-enabled apps such as social messaging apps, game apps, and photo apps would scan their surroundings for other Aware-enabled devices at distances up to Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi Direct range, or one to two football fields in distance, he said. If the user of the discovered device opted in, the discovered device could then establish a Wi-Fi Direct connection to directly receive photos and videos from the sending device, play a multiplayer game with an opponent on a train or in a park, or receive messages and other content via a social-media app.

Social-media apps could also be configured to lets users know if relatives or friends are in the same mall, stadium or downtown area, enabling the user to send content or messages direct and in real time.

Retailers, sports venues, and municipalities could use the technology to send information to users who opt to seek specific types of content. In a store, for example, users could set an app to notify them if dress shoes are on sale rather than receive information on all promotions within the store, Figueroa said. Trade-show attendees could opt in to receive information from seminar speakers’ phones, perhaps via LinkedIn, that they will speak on specific topics.

“You get only those things that matter to you based on where you are,” he said.

Wi-Fi Aware offers multiple advantages over proximity applications that require the use of GPS and cellular to deliver proximity information, Figueroa said. The advantages include low latency, lack of cellular data charges, and use in areas where cellular is unavailable, the cellular network is congested, GPS coverage is spotty, or a Wi-Fi network is unavailable. Wi-Fi Aware “works well in crowded environments and indoors by design,” he said.

Because the technology doesn’t require a cloud connection, he added, users won’t be made aware of a social connection 15 after they’ve left the area. Text messages and Facebook messages sent to someone nearby via cellular can take up to two hours of a network is congested or coverage is poor, he added.

The technology also conserves battery power because devices exchange their proximity and the type of content they want to share without full Wi-Fi being on and before making a full Wi-Fi connection and, Figueroa added.

When Wi-Fi Aware in-store as a “beacon” to disseminate promotional information, it offers a range advantage over Bluetooth-based beacon technologies, he also said.

Wi-Fi Aware can be implemented as a firmware upgrade in existing Wi-Fi-enabled mobile devices, implemented in an app running on a mobile device, or implemented in hardware or a mobile OS, Figueroa said.  Wi-Fi Aware works over 2.4GHz, requiring devices incorporate 802.11 b or g or 2.4GHz n.

Said Rich Karpinski, principal analyst at 451 Research, “The future of mobile applications is being driven by a more location-based, context-aware, and personalized approach.” Wi-Fi Aware, he said, offers “the potential to put Wi-Fi at the forefront of those experiences, enabling social and local applications to come to life because users discover what’s nearby in real time, accessing the experiences they want – when and where they want them.”

Figueroa also sees potential in the home automation market, pointing out that the alliance creates

technologies that are often implemented in ways that weren’t imagined at first. Wi-Fi Aware could enable such ad hoc uses as giving friends access to portions of a home automation system or wireless multiroom-audio system via Wi-Fi Direct without giving them access to a home’s Wi-Fi network. Mobile devices could also be automatically notified if a Miracast-enabled display is nearby so they can stream video to a TV from their mobile device. Appliance technicians could also communicate with a Aware-enabled appliance to diagnose it without accessing a home’s Wi-Fi network, he said.