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Meet 802.11ah: low powered Wi-Fi with greater range for the IoT market

It's time to re-use that unlicensed 900 MHz spectrum from so many cordless phones of yesteryear. The HaLow Wi-Fi standard allows smart devices to connected with less power across more space.
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Written by Kevin Tofel, Contributing Writer on

Say hello to HaLow, the newest standard from the Wi-Fi Alliance that promises to use less power while also nearly doubling the range of wireless devices.

HaLow is the brand-friendly name for 802.11ah Wi-Fi, which the Wi-Fi Alliance announced on Monday, and is aimed mainly at the smarthome and Internet of Things market.

What makes HaLow uniquely suited for such products? Mainly, the frequency it uses, which is 900 MHz.

That unlicensed spectrum band was long used for cordless phones in the home for years; back when we actually wanted to extend landlines beyond the confines of the cord.

While there are still some products using the 900 MHz band, few of those cordless phones will be competing for airwaves. Even better: the lower the frequency of radio waves, the easier it is for them to travel through walls and other obstacles. That speaks to the wider range that 802.11ah products will have.

Don't expect your next computer to support HaLow Wi-Fi though: The real focus here is on bringing connectivity to IoT devices such as connected health products, sensors, doorbells and a multitude of other smart products.

The standard may have a broader range but it's not meant for downloading the latest movies from iTunes. Instead, HaLow will initially support slower wireless speeds and focus on transmitting small bits of data from IoT devices.

According to Edgar Figueroa, the President and CEO of the Wi-Fi Alliance, "Wi-Fi HaLow is well suited to meet the unique needs of the Smart Home, Smart City, and industrial markets because of its ability to operate using very low power, penetrate through walls, and operate at significantly longer ranges than Wi-Fi today."

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The new standard will play nicely with devices using other, more common Wi-Fi protocols and the Wi-Fi Alliance says many products using HaLow will also operate in the traditional 2.4 and 5 GHz radio bands.

But the real benefit here is for devices that are farther from wireless access points or deployed in large areas: With minimal power usage, "dense device deployments" can take advantage of connecting thousands of HaLow smart devices to just one access point; something that can help smart cities as well as smart homes.

While HaLow is now official, the Wi-Fi Alliance doesn't expect to begin certifying products that use it until 2018. Some products may appear sooner though, just like they did prior to other Wi-Fi certification efforts.

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