HaLow: The New Slow Wi-Fi Standard

Carl Weinschenk
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The new year brought still another addition to the always expanding world of Wi-Fi: 802.11ah, which is being branded by the Wi-Fi Alliance as HaLow.

ZDNet reports that HaLow is aimed at using less power while, at the same time, almost doubling the range of wireless devices. It is aimed at the smart home and Internet of Things (IoT) markets. The advantages that HaLow offers are due to its use of the comparatively low 900 MHz spectrum that is home to cordless phones.

The low frequency range enables HaLow to penetrate walls and work around other obstructions. Apple Insider says that there is no information on when the devices will hit the retail market; Computerworld says that the certification process is likely to kick off in 2018 and that products likely will hit the market in advance of certification.

HaLow will be relatively inexpensive to use because, as a Wi-Fi standard, it is unlicensed. Computerworld says that it initially will be certified to work between 150 kilobits per second (kbps) and 18 Megabits per second (Mbps), but HaLow is not built for speed:

Even so, the slower throughput of Wi-Fi HaLow will make little difference for many of the futuristic IoT applications being envisioned, where sensors are battery operated and usually transmit occasional short bursts of data. Faster throughput makes a bigger difference in high-definition video and other data-intense and persistent applications.

It appears that The Wi-Fi Alliance has thought this through very well. To date, the world of telecommunications has aimed at ever faster and higher capacity networks. Now, however, the use of telecom networks for myriad everyday tasks means that there is a far wider array of use cases. Some of these do not need high speeds or significant bandwidth.

If a refrigerator’s compressor is operating outside of parameters, the necessary messages generated by the sensors are short and not-time dependent. 802.11ah and standards like it will fulfill a real – albeit it slow – need.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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