Wireless networking, and in particular Wi-Fi, has evolved significantly since the release of IEEE 802.11a and IEEE 802.11b and the creation of the Wi-Fi Alliance in 1999. Over the years, various standards offering faster speeds and greater ranges have come to the market. But most, eventually, reached the same limitations.
No matter how much faster they could send data, they all had a finite range that was governed by the laws of physics. Enterprises overcame this, to some extent, by installing multiple access points (APs) per floor or location and then allowing devices to roam between them. However, each AP acted independently and required its own connection, which was typically wired and required a link to a power over Ethernet (POE) switch back to the core network. Complex management tools were required to ensure the settings on each AP were the same and would work cohesively.
Consumers and small businesses faced similar issues. Internet service providers and more recently under the fiberoptic internet roll-out, Retail Service Providers, have provided single modems/routers that made it easy to connect to their services. However, many households suffered from connection blackspots in their homes and offices. Network extenders were meant to solve this problem but tend to be proprietary, complex to set up, and offer disappointing performance.
Mesh networking solves many of these issues, allowing an area to be blanketed with Wi-Fi coverage. Here, multiple APs operate as a team; sharing connectivity and intelligently shifting devices between APs to manage network load and performance. But each AP still suffers from range limitations which might restrict the overall mesh coverage to the indoor area of a house, for example, leaving outside areas without coverage.
So mesh networking using the 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands may work for a relatively confined area but trying to cover larger areas becomes more challenging as many nodes are needed to extend the network. And, in some cases, nodes need to be placed in areas where building substrates interfere with the signal or in locations where there is no power supply.
What’s needed is a long-range wireless connection that allows each node in the network to communicate with the other nodes, overcoming traditional Wi-Fi’s limitations.
Wi-Fi CERTIFIED HaLowTM (Wi-Fi HaLow)
Wi-Fi HaLowTM is the designation for products incorporating the IEEE 802.11ah standard and operates in the sub-1 GHz band. It augments Wi-Fi 4, 5 and 6 that operate in the 2.4 GHz, 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands with longer range while using significantly less power. This emerging standard delivers all of the benefits that consumers and enterprises expect from Wi-Fi including multi-vendor interoperability, easy setup without disrupting existing Wi-Fi networks, and the latest Wi-Fi WPA3TM security. There are three major benefits for using Wi-Fi HaLow in mesh environments:
1. It makes connections more reliable
For mesh networks to work effectively, there needs to be communication between each node so that connected devices can be seamlessly moved, managed and maintained. With existing Wi-Fi 4, 5 and 6 mesh networking equipment, these management communications are handled using the in-band Wi-Fi channels, and add to the load on these channels. If connectivity is lost or intermittent between nodes, for example, due to range issues, traffic volume or interference, then diagnosing problems may become difficult or impossible.
Wi-Fi HaLow can provide a dedicated out-of-band radio in each node for network management, which enables reliable network configuration, problem diagnosis and recovery, thus enhancing the ease of use and optimising overall Wi-Fi management and performance.
2. It provides a complementary connection that goes the distance
While mesh networking overcomes many of the limitations of traditional wireless networks. Wi-Fi HaLow-enabled mesh goes further by removing range and management limitations faced by Wi-Fi 4, 5 and 6 mesh networking solutions by providing a reliable backchannel for hard-to-reach locations.
It’s important to note that Wi-Fi HaLow and Wi-Fi 4, 5 and 6 are complementary technologies. While Wi-Fi 4, 5 and 6 are typically used for end-point devices to connect to a network, Wi-Fi HaLow supports long-range end-point devices and may also be used to link mesh network nodes together for stronger, wider-reaching, robust data and/or management connections. This is why mesh APs of the future will have Wi-Fi HaLow connectivity in addition to Wi-Fi 4, 5 and 6.
3. It will enhance connectivity
According to sources, the number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices worldwide will reach 29 billion in 2030. And with this growth in IoT comes increasing demand for robust, reliable and high-performing networks.
Areas of the home or office that may have been annoying blackspots in the past now require network coverage with no exception. Embedding Wi-Fi HaLow into devices will future-proof and enhance IoT connectivity, enabling greater connectivity of people and things into the future.
Wi-Fi HaLow should be seen as a force multiplier that will allow consumers and businesses to get better performance from their mesh networks while managing them better. It can support links over longer distances, using less energy and supporting back-end operations.