LAS VEGAS -- Your WiFi gadgets are about to learn some new tricks.
At the CES show here this morning, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced a new proximity-based technology called Wi-Fi Aware that will allow applications to discover nearby users and services without ever connecting to the Internet. The solution will operate in the background on WiFi devices and send opt-in messages when a relevant person or service is nearby. If the user is interested, he or she can then connect with the nearby person or service via a point-to-point connection like Wi-Fi Direct, or over the web.
In a nutshell, Wi-Fi Aware is being crafted to create a power-efficient, offline mode of discovery. It won't support full-fledged applications, but it will alert consumers when it makes sense to launch an application or otherwise open up a line of communication. The Wi-Fi Alliance expects to start certifying products for the new technology later this year.
The potential use cases for Wi-Fi Aware are nearly limitless. The Wi-Fi Alliance cites a shopping example in its news announcement, suggesting that a consumer might use Wi-Fi Aware to receive alerts when a favorite brand has products close at hand.
However, Alliance President and CEO Edgar Figueroa then goes on to say in a statement that "We've only begun to imagine the use cases for Wi-Fi Aware. Of course, people will use the technology to find video game opponents, photo-sharing opportunities, and sources for location-specific information. We are also excited about Wi-Fi Aware's potential in a range of services yet-to-be conceived."
Meanwhile Kevin Robinson, director of program marketing at the Wi-Fi Alliance, noted in an interview that Wi-Fi Aware is appealing not just because it doesn't require an Internet connection, but also because it doesn't need any infrastructure for deployment. As Robinson explained it, even with no connection to the cloud and no external hardware, Wi-Fi Aware "gives you that real-time awareness of what's around you."
Interestingly, WiFi is increasingly becoming a standard for two different types of networking: public networking over the Internet and targeted local networking through device-to-device communications. Think of it as a way of giving consumers their own hybrid cloud.
With new products and services on the horizon and an estimated 4.5 billion WiFi-enabled devices now in use around the world, there's a good reason that cable companies are investing so heavily in WiFi now. There's a lot of future revenue on the line. (See US MSOs Near 10 Million Hotspots and Carrier-Grade WiFi Still 2 Years Away – CableLabs.)
— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading