Long range, low power tech for the Internet of Things
There are more than 6.8 billion devices with Wi-Fi technology in use today, but the number of devices that need to share data or access the wireless Internet will grow exponentially in the coming years because various wearables, driverless cars, smart sensors and other devices that belong to the Internet of Things (IoT) world.
IoT is all about connectivity, so it’s not surprising that so many alternatives have emerged for getting data from “here to there”. To handle billions of connections, we need a wireless technology that is designed to handle the long distances, use minimal power and lower costs associated with many IoT applications.
For short range we have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee and Z-Wave, just to name a few. For longer range, we have 2G / 3G and now 4G LTE, with the introduction of 5G still years from deployment. In addition, a new breed of low-power, long-range wireless networks (LPWANs) have surfaced and are now being rolled out by companies such as Sigfox or Neul.
Traditional long-range wireless connectivity is well adapted to situations where transfer rates require a reasonable amount of speed. Many connected devices have a reasonably sized battery and are easily recharged on a fairly regular basis. These networks are not designed for low data rate devices that run on either no battery or a small size battery. In addition, the cost models currently presented to potential IoT customers are designed for typical cell phone data plans, rather than the occasional transfer of data.
And so we have new options like LPWANs. These networks were designed to work at distances measured in kilometers and have power consumption figures that allow for years, not days or weeks. LPWANs are optimized for the IoT where data rates are not the greatest concern, but range, battery life and cost are. LoRaWAN, Sigfox and Weightless, among others, were all designed from the ground up to meet the direct needs of new IoT applications.
Earlier this year, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced the IEEE 802.11ah standard, which was developed specifically for IoT devices, and will be formally called the Wi-Fi HaLow.
The 802.11ah operates in 900 MHz band, which helps to cut down power consumption, extend transmission range, improve propagation and penetration. It is expected that the radius of a Wi-Fi HaLow device will be twice that of modern Wi-Fi standards and up to one kilometer, which can be further extended using relay.
The Wi-Fi HaLow technology was designed to enable communications between devices at longer distances and in challenging environments using relatively low amounts of power. The tech could challenge both Bluetooth and cellular networks eventually since it combines the best of both worlds: low power operation as well as relatively long range. Moreover, unlike Bluetooth and other short-range radio technologies, the 802.11ah can connect devices directly to the Internet.
The IoT requires an extensive range of new technologies and skills that many organizations have yet to master. The technologies and principles of IoT will have a very broad impact on organizations, affecting business strategy, risk management and a wide range of technical areas such as architecture and network design. Selecting a wireless network for an IoT device involves balancing many conflicting requirements, such as range, battery life, bandwidth, density, endpoint cost and operational cost. This is why low power, short range networks will dominate wireless IoT connectivity.
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