The Wi-Fi market is going through an exciting period of change at the moment. The forthcoming Wi-Fi 6 standard promises to mark a big step forward in wireless connectivity, and could be with us sooner than many think. Indeed, it's suggested that the next generation of flagship smartphones - led by the Samsung Galaxy S10 - will start offering support for this in the next few months.
But this is not the only new and emerging standard that deployers should be thinking about. Another standard that could have a big impact on how companies use wireless devices is the IEEE's 802.11ah standard.
Also known as HaLoW, this is a 900MHz variant of Wi-Fi that is designed to offer extended range service, and is set to be particularly useful for Internet of Things (IoT) deployments. It was first published back in 2017, but it's only now that a new breed of startups are looking to take advantage of the technology.
So, what can we expect when HaLoW-ready products start to hit the market in greater numbers?
Finding a gap in the market
The EE Times notes that HaLoW offers the potential to deliver data transfer at distances from tens of metres to over a kilometre, with products expected to sit in the gap between low-power, low-cost solutions, such as LoRa and Sigfox networks, and more power-hungry LTE Cat-M and Narrowband-IoT networks.
One wireless industry expert told the publication: "HaLoW stands out for its versatility in enabling new business models, as well as capabilities in capacity, range and battery operation, all of the attributes the market needs - it just needs an ecosystem to emerge."
Indeed, this has so far been the key challenge for HaLoW, as the EE Times observed that when the standard was first launched, it occured at the same time as the release of the latest version of mainstream 2.4 and 5GHz Wi-Fi, 802.11ax.
As a result, product manufacturers had to make choices about which standards to focus their attentions on - and as 802.11ax used existing bandwidth and clearly had the larger market opportunity, this took priority.
The advantages of HaLoW
At the time, the IoT was still in its relative infancy, so it may have appeared HaLoW had limited uses. But today, IoT is everywhere, and the intrinsic advantages of this standard for such deployments is causing many companies to give it a second look.
For instance, a whitepaper by Morse Micro that makes the case for HaLoW noted that, while LoRa offers a lower-cost way of connecting various sensors, it is limited by the fact that data rates are typically below a few kilobits/second, which some experts say is not enough to support over-the-air updates needed to keep up with changing security standards.
Other established standards can offer more power and faster transfer rates, but aren't able to support large networks of sensors from a single base station - a factor that is likely to become ever-more important as the IoT grows.
HaLoW, on the other hand, meets both of these requirements, with co-founder of Morse Micro Michael De Nil explaining it should be able to support speeds of 160Kbps over at least 100 metres, with the range extending even further if line of sight can be maintained. Plus, it can accommodate more than 8,000 nodes on an access point, making it more attractive for large-scale IoT deployments.
"We could be selling millions of units a year by the end of 2019," Mr De Nil said, highlighting applications such as utility meters, warehouses, supermarkets and remote video surveillance cameras as being particularly ripe for the technology.