The new kid on the block for low-power wireless connectivity

I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to find the technological world to be a very confusing place, and I’m supposed to be an expert, so goodness only knows how non-techno-dweebs manage to wrap their brains around everything that’s going on.

Take wireless communications, for example. I think most of us are comfortable with the concept of Wi-Fi in that we all have it in our homes and office. I also think that most folks wouldn’t quail if you dropped the term Bluetooth into the conversation.

Furthermore, even those members of the engineering community who haven’t designed or used a low-power wireless mesh network themselves would probably nod knowingly if you mentioned something like Zigbee, even if they don’t know all the nitty-gritty details.

In reality, however, the aforementioned technologies are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many different applications that can benefit from wireless communications, but they all have different requirements. Some need only a low data rate and desire low periodicity (they don’t want to send data often), but they do require the ability to transmit this data over long distances (say 15 to 50 km). Others demand higher data rates, but they don’t need to send data more than a kilometer before reaching an access point to the internet.

It seems like only a few years ago that everyone was asking, “What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?” By comparison, we now all know what it is because we are using it in one form or another almost 24/7/365, and we have barely scratched the surface of what is to come.

Unfortunately, limitations in current wireless technologies are inhibiting the deployment of large-scale IoT applications, which demand long range, low power consumption, low cost, adequate bandwidth, and reliable and secure communication. The problem is that no current wireless protocol satisfies all these requirements and — as a result — many IoT applications that are eminently desirable are not currently practical.

Until recently, the wireless networking protocols on everybody’s lips included SigFox, Lora, Zigbee, LTE-M, and NB-IoT. Now there’s a relatively new kid on the block called HaLow (pronounced “HEY-Low”), which is based on the EEE 802.11ah protocol. HaLow’s low power consumption competes with Bluetooth and has the added benefit of higher data rates, a wider coverage range, and support for higher density (>8,000), which refers to how many clients can be packed into a given area.

Low-power WAN technology comparison (Source: Adapt)

Wi-Fi HaLow operates in the sub-Gigahertz, license-free frequencies of the ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) bands, enabling a longer range of more than 1 km while using less power than existing Wi-Fi technologies, including operation on a coin cell battery. Additional benefits of the 802.11ah standard include better penetration through buildings, support for up to 8191 stations (STA) per Access Point (AP), and support for WPA3 for authentication and encryption, all of which mean that the new Wi-Fi HaLow standard will facilitate the deployment of large-scale IoT applications.

But where do you go if you are desirous of dipping your toes in the HaLow waters? Well, the clever folks at Adapt have just announced the availability of their newly-released Wi-Fi HaLow Development Platform (HDP) family for system integrators and application developers targeting the industrial IoT market. The company’s HDP-100 and HDP-200 systems support the IEEE 802.11ah standard, offering a complete hardware and software development environment in a small-form factor for use across multiple industry segments including agriculture, construction, logistics, retail, security, smart home, and transportation.


Adapt HaLow products: Development platforms (left), integrated circuits (middle), and IP for SoCs (right). (Source: Adapt)

This FPGA-based platform, which is sold as a package for early adopters to prototype HaLow IoT networks, and which includes hardware and software integration services, starts at $50,000 and is available now. Adapt is also working on their HaLow SoC, which will boast radio, baseband, MAC, processor, memory, and sensor interfaces. With tapeout scheduled for Q4/2019 and full production planned by Q4/2020, this will be one of the first certified HaLow SoCs available to the creators of next-generation IoT platforms.

>> This article was originally published on our sister site, EEWeb:”New HaLow Wireless Protocol for Large-Scale IoT Deployments.”

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