For many, wireless Internet connectivity is synonymous with Wi-Fi. But for many, if not most, Internet of Things (IoT) use cases, Wi-Fi does not offer the required range and its implementation often costs more in complexity and power than such applications can tolerate. The WIFi Alliance aims to change that situation, though, with a variation of Wi-Fi specifically for the IoT.
The Wi-Fi variant in question is IEEE 802.11ah, to be known as Wi-Fi HaLow (pronounced like halo) according to a recent release from the Wi-Fi Alliance. Despite reports circulating on the Internet, however, the standard is not yet finalized. So far, the only thing cast in stone is the name. The IEEE standard itself is still in the IEEE-SA Sponsor Ballot stage. The first ballot is complete, and a second ballot is scheduled to go out in March, 2016.
But it's coming close. If all goes well (and there is little reason to expect that it won't) the final specification approval should take place by September this year. For many chip developers, that's close enough that it's time to start designing the hardware.
Wi-Fi HaLow will follow most of the standard Wi-Fi protocols, which will help simplify the creation of router/hub devices that handle both HaLow and conventional Wi-Fi in a single unit. The protocol commonality also means that IoT developers will find it easier to create HaLow devices, leveraging their knowledge of conventional Wi-Fi. And there will be little, if any, manipulation required to convert a HaLow data stream for Internet Protocol (IP) backhaul.
At the same time, Wi-Fi HaLow is under no constraint to maintain absolute compatibility with conventional Wi-Fi. This frees HaLow to incorporate changes that reduce implementation complexity. The changes include more compact frame formats and reduced protocol overhead, both of which address the standard's goal of reducing the cost and complexity of MAC-layer implementations.