It was just a few weeks ago that I wrote about the adoption of IEEE 802.11ac Wi-Fi in enterprises, but another Wi-Fi standard is promising to change the game for IoT devices and applications. The IEEE 802.11ah Wi-Fi standard, nicknamed “HaLow”, is a technology getting mostly positive press for the last couple months. And indeed, HaLow does offer some positive changes over previous Wi-Fi versions that could prove important for consumer IoT products. But is the technology an important upgrade for enterprise clients? I’ll try to tackle that question here.
To start with, let’s look at the major benefits. HaLow works in the 900 MHz band, enabling low power requirements and a larger effective signal range. There are big predictions for the future of the technology in consumer home products, and it will supposedly work well with existing 802.11x devices. The look frequency range of HaLow will also allow its signals to better penetrate through walls, an important consideration for home consumers. Unfortunately, this signal range is also used for some other home devices (according to NetworkWorld), such as garage door openers; this “must be addressed as part of home automation solutions,” according to Gartner VP Tim Zimmerman. Still, the upcoming HaLow technology is not without promise.
What does this mean for enterprise Wi-Fi vendors and clients? Well, for vendors, the introduction of HaLow provides a big opportunity to gain a foothold in the IoT market. And if enterprise sales of wireless access points are any indicator, they won’t have difficulty finding clients. (Enterprise wireless AP sales were around 20 million units last year, up from 14.1 million in 2013.)
But there is an important catch here. Enterprise clients may not be automatically thinking “Wi-Fi” for their IoT products, for a couple reasons. To be sure, Wi-Fi is used frequently throughout the commercial landscape; for instance, it is native to virtually all mobile devices on the market. But there are alternatives out there, such as Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave, and Sigfox. Bluetooth, for one, is just as low-power as this newest version of Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth’s upcoming versions will improve upon its feature set without increasing power consumption. Some enterprises may be turned off by the slow data rates of HaLow, though this shouldn’t make a big difference for IoT sensors that won’t need to quickly transmit large quantities of data. Perhaps the biggest issue for enterprise clients is time to market. Most sources say that HaLow won’t be available until the Wi-Fi Alliance certifies products starting in 2018, which gives its competitors time to establish themselves in the IoT market.
Wi-Fi is the most widely used wireless connectivity protocol out there, though not without competitors. When HaLow finally gets released in 2018, it will likely make a big splash, though rival companies and standardization efforts do stand a fighting chance. One particular wireless protocol is not likely to be declared the winner any time soon in the quickly growing IoT market.