The Wi-Fi blackspot problem inside the home has been largely solved by mesh networking kits that allocate some of their wireless bandwidth to establish connectivity between mesh network nodes, thus extending the reach of the Wi-Fi local area network (WLAN). And while this works well in many domestic situations, and for some small offices, it’s not a perfect solution.
On larger properties, the inability to connect distant areas, such as garages, sheds and front gates, to the WLAN limits the ability to take advantage of new Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as remote locking systems and security cameras. In non-domestic environments, IoT devices can be used for anything from tracking and measuring the health of animals on a farm to the operation of machines in a factory or heating systems in a skyscraper.
Overcoming the range limitations of current Wi-Fi standards is a major challenge for enabling the IoT applications of the future. The limitations in range come down to simple physics. Wi-Fi 4, 5 and 6 operate in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands with the more recent Wi-Fi 6E adding the 6 GHz band to the mix. While these higher frequency bands allow wider channels with faster performance, lower frequencies offer better range. So, today’s mesh networks are subject to the range limitations of the higher frequency bands.
1. Cheaper and easier long-range wireless backhaul
Wi-Fi HaLow, which incorporates the IEEE 802.11ah standard, changes this. Wi-Fi HaLow uses the sub-1 GHz band. As a result, it can transmit data over much longer distances and penetrate more substrates than earlier Wi-Fi standards that have been brought to market, such as Wi-Fi 4, 5 and 6. For mesh networks, Wi-Fi HaLow can deliver long-range backhaul links.
Wi-Fi HaLow can reach up to ten times farther than conventional Wi-Fi, making it a reliable multi-Mbps backhaul well suited to extending WLAN networks, particularly for sensors, cameras and other IoT devices. It is also cost-effective. In the past, reaching a remote area meant digging trenches and installing physical cabling to traverse wide areas.
And while the narrower channels do mean throughput is lower than Wi-Fi 5 and 6, an 8 MHz single stream Wi-Fi HaLow device can deliver throughputs in excess of 30 Mbps which is fast enough for bandwidth-hungry applications such as streaming video in HD and video conferencing.
2. Wi-Fi HaLow simplifies mesh connection management
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 mesh 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.
3. Prepare for the future of mesh networks
International Data Corporation (IDC) forecasts a massive growth in the number of IoT devices that will be connected to networks. It estimates that there will be in excess of 40 billion IoT devices by 2025, potentially generating up to 80 zettabytes of data. Connecting those devices to networks will become a major challenge in the coming years.
Wi-Fi HaLow can free up bandwidth in the higher frequency bands by moving IoT to the sub-1 GHz band and is starting to make its way into many IoT devices because of its advantages in low power and range. Therefore, adding Wi-Fi HaLow to mesh access points now will enable those devices to connect without the need for additional network equipment in the future. A mesh node equipped with both Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi HaLow will enable enhanced connectivity for IoT devices while supporting traditional Wi-Fi applications.
The development of mesh networks and the continued evolution of Wi-Fi have been a boon for consumers. Whether people are working from home, enabling smart home devices, boosting coverage in offices or starting to leverage IoT, extending networks using a standards-based approach that avoids the costs of cabling and additional switches delivers significant benefits.