Edge of Innovation

Say HaLow to the new Wi-Fi for the Internet of Things


No sooner have we covered the wonders of Li-Fi and its wireless-providing LED light bulbs, then there’s a new version of Wi-Fi in town. Dubbed Wi-Fi HaLow, the Wi-Fi Alliance has announced that the 802.11ah specification will join the existing 802.11 Wi-Fi standards you already use at home and work. But it will offer two key improvements.

The first is greater range.

While today’s conventional Wi-Fi networks operate on 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, Wi-Fi HaLow has been designed to take advantage of the unlicensed 900MHz wireless band.

“Wi-Fi HaLow’s range is nearly twice that of today’s Wi-Fi,” says the Wi-Fi Alliance, “and will not only be capable of transmitting signals further, but also providing a more robust connection in challenging environments where the ability to more easily penetrate walls or other barriers is an important consideration.”

A single 802.11ah access point should be able to provide whole house coverage. In fact, the estimated range of HaLow could be as much as a kilometre.

The TP-Link AC3200
The TP-Link AC3200 is a Tri-Band Wi-Fi router is fast, but existing 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi bands can suffer range problems.

The second improvement is lower power consumption.

The 802.11n Wi-Fi we currently use isn’t suited to the new generation of Internet of Things (IoT) devices that are beginning to appear, specifically sensors and wearables. These devices need to be able to function for extended periods of time on battery power and so HaLow is designed for short bursts of data rather than continuous connectivity.

Hang on, you might be thinking. Why do we need Wi-Fi HaLow when Bluetooth is perfectly capable of device-to-device connections and Z-Wave already connects door sensors, smart heating systems and home security cameras? And won’t we need to upgrade to 802.11ah-compatible routers to use it?

heat genius z-wave
The Heat Genius wireless central heating system uses a Z-Wave network to communicate between components.

Yes, HaLow will require compatible hardware. And yes, IoT ecosystems such as Samsung SmartThings are already built around Z-Wave and/or ZigBee mesh networking.

HaLow, however, offers native IP connectivity, which means that 801.11ah devices can connect directly to the Internet not just to each other. That’s a big advantage for smart home systems, connected cars and digital healthcare, not to mention industrial, retail, agriculture and smart city environments.

HaLow (802.11ah) joins short range Wireless Gigabit (aka WiGig/802.11ad) as one of the wireless formats to watch in 2016. — Dean Evans (@evansdp)

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