LAS VEGAS -- CES 2016 -- At CES this year, the Wi-Fi Alliance is revealing a new specification for the Internet of Things. At least it's announcing the name -- Wi-Fi HaLow -- and the expected capabilities of the new spec. Not mentioned in the press release, however, is the fact that the Alliance doesn't plan to begin certifying HaLow products until 2018.
And by then, WiFi may be two years too late to the IoT game.
First, the technical details. HaLow will operate in the 900MHz frequency band, putting it below the bands at 2.4GHz and 5GHz where WiFi devices operate today. It will use 802.11ah technology as defined by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) , and promises to deliver both longer-range and lower-power connectivity compared to traditional WiFi. HaLow is also touted as performing well in environments with dense building materials like concrete and stone, making it ideal for connecting sensors that live in basements and other fortified areas.
According to the Wi-Fi Alliance , HaLow will be a strong contender for connecting smart homes and smart cities. It won't have the range limitations of current standards like Zigbee, and it will offer all the advantages of the existing WiFi ecosystem including well established connection methods, strong security and consumer brand recognition.
Unfortunately, HaLow is still years away. On the cellular front, Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) expects to begin testing Narrow-Band Long-Term Evolution (NB-LTE) technology for IoT in the early half of this year, and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) plans to start shipping NB-LTE chips by the latter half of 2016. There's also Narrowband Cellular IoT (CIoT) technology, supported by Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and others, which, along with Ericsson's preferred solution, is expected to contribute elements to an official narrow-band LTE standard currently being developed by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP). (See Ericsson Expects 4G for the Machines in 2016 and Ericsson, Intel, Nokia Back New Narrowband LTE IoT Spec .)
IoT standards development work also includes efforts put forth by the LoRa Alliance , which is pushing the LoRa protocol (LoRaWAN) for Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWA). Sponsor members of the LoRa Alliance include Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) among others. (See LPWA: A Threat to 'Wait & See' IoT Operators?)
Outside of the standards race, multiple companies are already deploying proprietary IoT network technologies. French startup Sigfox recently announced that it's signed a deal to build out an IoT network in San Francisco, and the company says it plans to deploy its IoT technology in ten US cities over the next three months. Sigfox already boasts 5 million devices connected to its low-power IoT networks in ten European countries. (See There's a Sigfox at the Golden Gate.)
Rivaling Sigfox is another company called Ingenu, which has proprietary LPWA networks already in place in Phoenix and Dallas, with plans to expand to nine US cities by the end of this quarter and 30 cities by the end of the year. (See Ingenu Races Sigfox for US IoT Network Firsts.)
Wi-Fi Alliance Vice President of Marketing Kevin Robinson acknowledges that there are plenty of competing technologies when it comes to the field of IoT networking, but he doesn't see that as an impediment to HaLow's eventual success.
"The IoT space is still highly fragmented, and there's intense competition in the IoT space," says Robinson. "Going forward, it's unlikely that any one technology is going to own the IoT space, and in fact it's going to be a number of complementary technologies that ultimately make up IoT in general, and even in the smart home specifically you're going to see a number of different connectivity technologies occupying that space."
Robinson may be right, but two years is an eon in the tech industry, especially when so many heavyweights are competing for IoT supremacy. Two years is a long time to wait for HaLow's debut.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading