Connectivity is critical to virtually every aspect of our lives. From wearable devices to security systems to factory automation equipment, the ability to connect, monitor, and control the enormous variety of connected devices comprising today’s enterprises is a necessity. So what is the future of Wi-Fi?
The total number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices is projected to surpass 30 billion by 2025 (McKinsey). Enterprises have begun to adapt to this growing imperative for connectivity. The number of businesses deploying IoT technologies has nearly doubled in less than a decade, but the pace of evolution we’ve seen in the past does not compare to what we’ll see in the near future.
Wi-Fi (a set of 802.11 standards) has emerged as the most popular protocol for wireless local area networks (WLAN). Recent generations of Wi-Fi (Wi-Fi 4, 5, and 6) offer exceptional data rates over short ranges, making them well-suited for ultra-high resolution video streaming, virtual reality, and other data-intensive applications. However, those protocols were not engineered to cover many of the applications enterprises now demand from their inventory of IoT devices. In recent years, a new long-reach, low-power Wi-Fi protocol has emerged to meet the unique demands of IoT connectivity: the Wi-Fi HaLow (IEEE 802.11ah) standard.
The Wi-Fi Alliance’s introduction of the new Wi-Fi CERTIFIED HaLow™ program on November 2, 2021, was an inflection point for the industry. Morse Micro, where I serve as CEO, was among several vendors that have worked closely with the Wi-Fi Alliance (the global nonprofit organization that promotes the use of Wi-Fi and certifies Wi-Fi products) to deliver a wireless protocol engineered specifically to address the needs of IoT.
HaLow, The Future of Wi-Fi for IoT
Wi-Fi HaLow is a game changer for enterprise IoT applications that require a combination of long reach, low power, high data rates, high network capacity, and advanced security. Application possibilities range from factory and building automation to fleet and asset management and smart agriculture and smart city infrastructure. Here’s a closer look at some of the key benefits of Wi-Fi HaLow for enterprise connectivity:
- Wi-Fi HaLow offers a reach of approximately 1 km, which is between 10 and 100 times farther than 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, making it perfect for warehouses, factories, retail stores, and other large campus environments.
- Operating in the sub-1 GHz band, Wi-Fi HaLow signals can penetrate physical barriers like walls, floors, and other obstructions more effectively than other higher frequency protocols such as Bluetooth, traditional Wi-Fi, or Zigbee operating at 2.4 GHz. Wi-Fi HaLow reduces the operating cost and complexity of deploying end nodes such as wireless sensors and detectors at locations beyond the reach of 2.4 GHz protocols that otherwise require range extenders or additional access points (APs).
- As enterprise applications continue to apply artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and big data analytics, there is a growing need to deploy more sensors enabling more data to be collected.
- Wi-Fi HaLow is more energy-efficient than previous Wi-Fi options, enabling multi-year battery lifetimes for IoT devices, support for coin cell batteries, and lower energy consumption.
- An inherently secure wireless protocol, Wi-Fi HaLow supports the latest Wi-Fi requirements for authentication and encryption including WPA3 and AES for over-the-air (OTA) traffic.
- Wi-Fi HaLow is an open 802.11 standard. This simplifies installation and reduces operating costs because there is no requirement for proprietary gateways, controllers, or hubs. This ensures the 802.11ah technology will always be royalty-free, unlike some other proprietary connectivity solutions.
How to Implement HaLow in your Enterprise’s Tech Strategy
Many enterprises have relied on complex mesh networks to connect and control their huge inventories of IoT devices. With its large network capacity and long reach, Wi-Fi HaLow obviates the need for difficult-to-deploy mesh networks. The standard also simplifies enterprise network deployment by reducing security network infrastructure, minimizing installation and maintenance costs, accelerating installation times, and reducing maintenance costs.
Wi-Fi HaLow should be a key part of any conversation about addressing current IoT needs. Most companies conduct frequent information technology (IT) audits so a simple first step would be to add IoT connectivity requirements as a line item in your next audit. Chances are, your organization’s IoT network needs are already extensive and will continue to grow in the years ahead.
As part of the IT audit, cross-reference your list of IoT requirements with Wi-Fi HaLow’s unique benefits. As a protocol engineered specifically for IoT, Wi-Fi HaLow will likely fit your enterprise connectivity needs like a custom-built solution.
As you build out and refine your IT technology roadmaps, make plans to integrate Wi-Fi HaLow technology into your network topology and discuss your HaLow certification plans with equipment vendors so that you can factor HaLow-enabled devices and networks into your implementation plans.
The duration and cost of deploying Wi-Fi HaLow technology in your enterprise network will depend on your current network architecture and other wireless protocols in use. Any updates or revisions will require planning and resource allocation but expect the implementation of Wi-Fi HaLow to be relatively easy. The creation of Wi-Fi HaLow was predicated, in part, on the goal of simplifying network management with easy-to-deploy wireless technology that eliminates the need to tear out existing wiring and run new cables whenever you need to add devices or extend network coverage. Because Wi-Fi HaLow is compatible with existing Wi-Fi protocols (e.g., Wi-Fi 4, 5, and 6), it won’t interfere with radio frequency (RF) performance for any enterprise already using these Wi-Fi protocols.
As your enterprise’s IoT device inventory continues to grow, the need for streamlined, easy-to-deploy, and secure connectivity will only rise up your priority list. Wi-Fi HaLow was designed from the ground up in anticipation of this reality. While tech innovation will continue to accelerate, today there isn’t any wireless protocol available that can match the unique combination of power efficiency, extended range, network capacity, advanced security, Wi-Fi compatibility, and native IP support offered by Wi-Fi HaLow – this is the future of Wi-Fi.