I remember several years ago the major complaint lodged by my daughter in relation to what she was expected to endure from her living conditions was: "I can't get Wi-Fi in the toilet. I have to use my mobile data on my phone when I should be using the Wi-Fi."
Ignore for a moment the lack of sanity in using the phone while in the toilet and the first-world problem that my daughter saw as a major issue.
The point was that I only had two wireless access points (WAPs) to cover our house and it obviously wasn't quite enough. To satisfy the complaint, I had to install another two WAPs to ensure Wi-Fi access for my data hungry children.
The range of Wi-Fi has always been an issue. 2.4GHz and 5GHz (not to be confused with 5G) are the two main frequencies used by most modern devices.
The 5GHz band delivers higher speeds (theoretically up to 1,300mbps) but less range (typically around 15m in a normal house) and the 2.4GHz band gives you better range (usually about 40m indoors) with the sacrifice of speed (still as high as 600Mbps).
The Wi-Fi alliance has just announced certification of a new Wi-Fi protocol. This one may well solve my daughter's problem without needing additional WAPs.
Wi-Fi HaLow has a real-world range exceeding one kilometre - but before you get too excited, there is a catch. The higher range is achieved by a lower frequency therefore lower speeds. The longer range is achieved with a frequency below 1GHz.
This new Wi-Fi protocol is not really designed for my daughter to sit on the toilet and watch her streaming service at 4K. Instead, it is designed to accommodate an entirely new market segment. The Internet of Things (IoT).
At the moment there are 13.8 billion devices already in use under the broad category of IoT but by 2025 we will hit 30 billion cloud-connected devices.
The emphasis for Wi-Fi HaLow is to not only give better range, but lower power consumption. I have several electronic locks around my house.
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One particular lock is connected to Wi-Fi and controllable from my phone but it uses batteries that seem to need replacing way too often.
The main problem is the power consumption of Wi-Fi. The amount of data that needs to be transmitted between my lock and the outside world is minimal - so Wi-Fi HaLow with lower data speeds and lower power consumption will be perfect. Expect to see a range of smart home gadgets connected with Wi-Fi HaLow.
Another area of IoT growth is industrial and agricultural sensors. Often these sensors are connected to the mobile phone network as they aren't close enough to an internet connection to use normal Wi-Fi. These mobile connected devices also use more power.
With Wi-Fi HaLow an entire industrial estate or even a reasonable sized farm could be covered by Wi-Fi. With a one kilometre radius, one Wi-Fi connection point could cover over 300 hectares.
Many industrial sites are now using IoT to gauge maintenance requirements on static or moving objects. A bridge manufacturer might use an array of sensors to monitor deformation of a bridge, for example.
Mining sites might use sensors to plan maintenance just before failures.
Even security cameras, which typically need higher speeds, could record data at a local level at high-resolution but allow remote viewing at a lower resolution. Expect to see consumer devices appearing throughout 2022.
- Mathew Dickerson is a technologist, futurist and host of the Tech Talk podcast.
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