The Internet of Things (IoT) represents a convergence of several innovative technologies — all of which are entirely dependent on proper connectivity. Wi-Fi has emerged as the most popular form of IoT connectivity, but there are some limitations. IEEE standards are evolving to address those limitations.
Miniaturization and artificial intelligence (AI) are two of the innovations that enable IoT. As devices and sensors have become smaller, more powerful and less expensive than ever, they enable much broader deployment possibilities with the ability to capture much more data. Back-end data analytics solutions with embedded AI are the key to analyzing that data in near real time for new insights.
For any of this to matter much, IoT requires a connectivity solution with sufficient range, throughput, energy efficiency and security to efficiently move data from the edge to the analytics engines. Wi-Fi often is the obvious choice because it is well established, well understood and relatively easy to set up and use.
However, Wi-Fi isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It can be perfect in applications for communication between smart home devices, surveillance systems and other applications that generate varying, continuous to intermittent, data payloads over short to moderate distances. Things start to get more complex in environments such as hospitals where high-density networks must continuously move very large amounts of data from a multitude of sources.
Piggybacking IoT devices on the same networks and protocols that support the Internet and mobile communications will eventually create traffic issues. As IoT initiatives grow to include hundreds or even thousands of devices, spectrum congestion can lead to dropped connections leading to late or missing data.
Energy efficiency can be another issue with Wi-Fi. Although power consumption isn’t particularly noticeable when Wi-Fi is mostly used for Internet access, it becomes compounded at IoT scale. In fact, power consumption in the communication link is considered one of the chief limiting factors in IoT deployments because small IoT devices often have low-capacity batteries, or they are in remote locations and cannot be charged very frequently.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is addressing these limitations with two emerging wireless specifications — 802.11ah and 802.11ax.
IEEE 802.11ah, also known as HaLow, is the first Wi-Fi standard specifically designed for IoT applications. It operates in sub-gigahertz frequency , reducing power consumption by more than 90 percent and increasing the transmission range to over a kilometer compared to legacy Wi-Fi standards that operate in the 2.4GHz and 5GBHz space.
HaLow is not only capable of transmitting signals farther, but also provides a more robust connection in challenging environments. Dense device deployments will also benefit from HaLow’s ability to connect thousands of devices to a single access point.
The 802.11ax standard, also known as High Efficiency Wireless (HEW), also adds a number of IoT friendly features. A target wake time (TWT) mode, also available in 802.11ah, allows IoT devices to be allocated specified transmission times to reduce spectrum contention and the need to retransmit therefore preserving battery life. Frequency division multiplexing allows up to 18 clients to send data simultaneously without creating signal contention or congestion.
One tech executive has called IoT “the biggest business opportunity in the history of people,” and the possibilities do seem practically limitless. Gartner analysts say there are already more than 8 billion connected devices, and they predict that number will grow to more than 20 billion in the next two years. These new Wi-Fi standards are likely to play significant roles in that growth.
We are proud to welcome Atlanta-based Aware Software to the SageNet family. The company provides managed wireless infrastructure solutions, security and support across the hospitality, retail, restaurant, grocery, enterprise, healthcare and education sectors. Through Aware’s capabilities and our expansion into reporting and analytics, we are able to help customers fully leverage IoT technologies.