There are a lot of efforts underway to improve WiFi, and while most of them are dedicated to increasing robustness, at least one is aimed at extending the WiFi feature set and enabling new types of wireless applications.
The Wi-Fi Alliance announced today that certifications have begun for Wi-Fi Aware, a new energy-efficient technology designed to bring proximity awareness to devices without the need for an Internet connection. The technology will operate in the background on WiFi hardware like smartphones and wearables, allowing those devices to gain context on what other users and services are nearby. Then, applications taking advantage of Wi-Fi Aware can respond to that contextual data with alerts and configuration changes. (See Wi-Fi Alliance Unveils Location-Based Breakthrough .)
Think of it as a location-based instant messaging protocol for machines.
Along with launching its certification program, the Wi-Fi Alliance also announced that the first silicon supporting Wi-Fi Aware is available for certification test purposes. Those chips include the Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM) BCM4358, Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)'s Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260, Marvell Technology Group Ltd. (Nasdaq: MRVL)'s Avastar 88W8897 802.11ac low power Wi-Fi combo chip and Realtek Semiconductor Inc. 's RTL8812AE 2x2 a/b/g/n/ac MiniCard.
Some use cases for Wi-Fi Aware are obvious, like alerting users that fellow gamers or products they're interested in are nearby, or letting someone know when colleagues at a trade show are close at hand. Users will be able to follow up on alerts by opening up a standard WiFi connection to join a game, share photos or otherwise engage with people and products in the local environment.
Many use cases for Wi-Fi Aware, however, will likely only become apparent once the technology is widely adopted.
The good news about adoption is that there's no additional infrastructure needed for deployment. On the downside, however, developers may not jump on board en masse until Wi-Fi Aware is supported natively in mobile operating systems. Asked about this adoption variable, a Wi-Fi Alliance spokesperson said, "Native OS support isn't critical to Wi-Fi Aware, but it will certainly be an important factor in its long-term proliferation."
Of note, WI-Fi Aware is supposed to work well in indoor and dense locations, which should make it ideal for environments where people tend to cluster.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading