802.11ah - Wi-Fi Alliance Creates "Wi-Fi HaLow"

21st Jan 2016

The WiFi Alliance, the organisation behind the famous Wi-Fi trademark has this week introduced WiFi HaLow as the designation for devices based upon the emerging IEEE 802.11ah standard. WiFi HaLow operates in World-wide frequency bands just below 1 GHz and even with low power should achieve greater range than existing WiFi equipment operating at 2.4 and 5GHz.

Energy Efficient - Internet of Things - WiFi

The driver behind this new standard is to provide a simple low-power and therefore more energy efficient means of allowing devices to get onto the network; the ideal technology to drive adoption of the Internet of Things.

The real difference is the choice of frequency as radios operating at 900MHz tend to penetrate through building walls much better than other equipment operating in the traditional WiFi bands of 2.4 and 5GHz.

Back in the early 90’s the first pre-standard wireless network infrastructure kit also operated at 900 MHz and exhibited good range within buildings for the same reason.

"HaLow" benefits

Expect to see multi-standard wireless routers which include radios operating at 900 MHz, 2.4 GHz, and 5GHz to provide connectivity not only for today’s WiFi client devices but also for new families of home automation kit.

The exact frequency of operation for WiFi HaLow will differ depending upon which country you are in, much the same way as the 2.4 GHz band varies around the World for example 11 channels in the US but 13 channels in Europe. The actual frequency band used across Europe is likely to be 863-868 MHz which already carries a wide range of Short Range Devices including wireless thermostats, house alarms and radio mics.

A not so obvious benefit with WiFi HaLow is that as there isn’t an existing Wi-Fi kit presence at 900 MHz, the designers do not have to be concerned with ensuring compatibility with a previous generation of hardware, as is the case in the existing WiFi bands. This means that lessons learned in creating spectral and power efficient protocols over several generations of kit within the existing WiFi bands can be deployed here right from the start.

What about security? 

WiFi HaLow will broadly use the same protocols we’ve come to recognise in today’s WiFi kit but there is no mention so far of robust security tailored to the needs of the battery powered, low activity, sensor type devices which will make up a significant proportion of The Internet of Things. Whilst an easy and simple connectivity experience is desirable, the security of the network is vital.

Alas, WiFi has a fairly poor history when it comes to security, and given that WiFi HaLow is intended to expand the wireless range of the network the opportunities for hacking will also increase, making robust security mechanisms a very important consideration indeed.

What Next?

If you are planning to deploy an enterprise-grade wireless network or are experiencing problems with a existing setup, please feel free to contact Ensign Communications for a chat with our technical team.