WiFi backers prep for Zigbee assault at 900 MHz

Rick Merritt

September 01, 2013

Rick MerrittSeptember 01, 2013

SAN JOSE, Calif. — WiFi is preparing to ride 900 MHz spectrum bands in an effort to compete in cost and range with a fragmented set of options in home and building automation and the Internet of Things. Chips and systems using the upcoming IEEE 802.11ah standard are expected to hit the market starting in 2015.

The effort makes sense for the standard that is the most broadly used form of wireless local-area networking. However, it represents a reach for a sector already embracing 60 GHz for in-room multimedia and is no slamdunk against a dozen well-established options already optimized for building and home automation such as Zigbee and Z-wave.

A first vote on the .11ah standard could come as early as the end of September, although a final standard is not expected until January 2016. That makes 2014 the time frame for development of new silicon for end nodes and access points.

A host of companies have been working on the .11ah spec led by a Qualcomm engineer who chairs the group. Other participants come from companies including Broadcom, Huawei, Intel, LG, Marvell, NEC, Samsung, and ZTE.

The spec aims to support a range of options from throughput of 150 Kbits/s with a 1 MHz band to as much as 40 Mbits/s over an 8 MHz band. Distances supported could be about 50 percent longer than those of the streamlined 802.11n products now targeting the sector with throughput up to 72 Mbits/s.

The so-called sub-GHz standard is "the next big thing" on the WiFi road map, Adam Lapede, a senior director of product management at Qualcomm Atheros, said in an interview. "It gives you the simplification of not worrying about these other networks because you will have one radio and one router to cover all the use cases you need."

As many as a dozen 900 MHz protocols are now crowded into the space of building and home control networks. "That's the biggest problem -- you need separate hubs or base stations for each of them, and that means extra costs, and if you add IP to these devices there are more costs," he said.

The .11ah standard is expected to cover many modest home uses at 10-20 Mbits/s. It will also help WiFi vendors extend into large building networks supporting up to 8,000 connections, he said.

Existing 900 MHz nets are not sitting idle. Many have added 2.4 GHz support for higher throughput, and many, including Zigbee, have added Internet Protocol capabilities.

This article was previously published on EETimes News and Analysis.

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