Wi-Fi HaLow
Wi-Fi HaLow will connect smart home products, wearables and even connected cars promising longer range, more robust connections and much less power usage. Reuters

LAS VEGAS -- Wi-Fi has been the protocol used to connect our laptops, tablets and smartphones for many years but as the number of devices which have become smart and connected has grown exponentially the wireless standard has not kept up -- but that could all change with Wi-Fi HaLow (pronounced "halo").

Introduced in Las Vegas as part of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Wi-Fi HaLow is a new standard which has been introduced by the Wi-Fi Alliance specifically to address the smart home, wearable and connected car markets where to date Wi-Fi has been almost completely absent due to its high power demands. According to the Alliance, "Wi-Fi HaLow operates in frequency bands below 1GHz, offering longer range, lower power connectivity" which make it perfect for markets including smart home products, connected cars and digital healthcare, as well as industrial, retail, agriculture, and smart city environments.

As well as offering almost twice the range of today's Wi-Fi standards, Wi-Fi HaLow also promises to more easily penetrate walls in "challenging environments" which could give it a significant advantage over the dominant technology in this area -- Bluetooth. By operating at the 900MHz frequency, Wi-Fi HaLow may offer better range than traditional Wi-Fi standards and Bluetooth, but it won't be able to upload huge amounts of data quickly, as it is designed to offer small and occasional updates.

To date most wearables and smart home products have opted for Bluetooth for connectivity as it needs much less power and for products that need to go months and sometimes years without a charge, this is crucial. The Wi-Fi Alliance believes Wi-Fi HaLow -- which is an extension of the 802.11ah protocol -- offers comparable performance to Bluetooth but convincing device makers to make the switch is going to be a challenge.

“Wi-Fi HaLow expands the unmatched versatility of Wi-Fi to enable applications from small, battery-operated wearable devices to large-scale industrial facility deployments – and everything in between,” said Edgar Figueroa, President and CEO of Wi-Fi Alliance in a statement.

To support connectivity to Wi-Fi HaLow-enabled devices, smartphones and tablets will need new chips that support the new standard meaning it is likely to be a couple of years at least before we see the first wave of Wi-Fi HaLow devices on the market.