Wi-Fi HaLow’s 2021 progress report for sensors, IoT designs


Wi-Fi HaLow, much anticipated for years for its promise of reinventing Wi-Fi for the Internet of Things (IoT), is finally seeing some traction by the end of 2021. Much of this ascent can be credited to Wi-Fi Alliance’s announcement of the Wi-Fi CERTIFIED HaLow in November 2021.

Wi-Fi HaLow—Wi-Fi Alliance’s designation for products based on the IEEE 802.11ah standard—operates in spectra below 1 GHz to offer longer range and lower power connectivity. It enables a wide range of IoT use cases in agricultural, industrial, smart building, and smart city environments.

Just before the Christmas holidays, Korean chip developer Newracom unveiled its design collaboration with Canadian IoT solution provider Deviceworx Technologies for creating Wi-Fi HaLow-enabled IoT sensor solutions compliant with IEEE 802.11ah standard. Deviceworx will incorporate Newracom’s Wi-Fi HaLow SoC NRC7292 in its industrial IoT gateway for Wi-Fi HaLow access point (AP) functionality.

Deviceworx is also developing xTag HaLow IoT sensors using the NRC7292 Wi-Fi HaLow SoC. The xTAG HaLow vibration, environmental, ventilation (C02), and gas sensors will be able to connect to the cloud through a single HaLow gateway, simplifying the installation of IoT systems and reducing infrastructure and operating costs.

Figure 1 The battery-powered xTAG HaLow sensors feature multi-year operation, bypassing costly sensor redeployments. Source: Deviceworx

Earlier, in November 2021, Morse Micro unveiled a Wi-Fi CERTIFIED HaLow platform based on an 8 MHz reference design. The Sydney, Australia-based firm specializes in chips, modules, and easy-to-use evaluation kits for Wi-Fi HaLow designs. Its MM6108 and MM6104 SoCs provide a single-chip Wi-Fi HaLow solution incorporating the radio, PHY, and MAC while offering data rates that range from tens of Mbps to hundreds of Kbps at the farthest range.

Morse Micro is an official Wi-Fi HaLow testbed vendor. In March 2021, the developer of HaLow silicon solutions joined hands with LitePoint, a provider of wireless test solutions, to standardize the design verification of its Wi-Fi HaLow chips on LitePoint’s test IQxel-MW platform.

Startup energy

Another notable semiconductor startup proactive in the Wi-Fi HaLow realm is Palma Ceia SemiDesign (PCS), formerly an RF contract designer who has launched a HaLow reference design based on the IEEE 802.11ah specification. The reference design, which includes all necessary hardware and software building blocks, enables developers to prototype and field test connectivity systems compliant with Wi-Fi HaLow.

It’s ironic that while the main push for the Wi-Fi HaLow technology comes from startup companies, the wireless standard kicked off with significant help from Qualcomm engineers in 2014. Wi-Fi Alliance officially announced the standard at CES 2016.

Wi-Fi HaLow will operate in the 900 MHz band to link IoT devices for a longer range, and starting a new unlicensed ISM usually takes time. For instance, the 5-MHz band took nearly 10 years to move to widespread use. Still, IoT sensor applications are desperately seeking Wi-Fi support with more bandwidth and longer range.

Figure 2 The sub-GHz ISM bands in Wi-Fi HaLow operate between 850 MHz and 950 MHz. Source: Newracom

LoRa and Sigfox offer lower data rates, and IoT-centric LTE standards like Cat-M and Narrowband IoT consume more power while being cooked into cellular setups. Besides higher throughput, HaLow’s ability to communicate over long distances—over 1 km outdoor—and the superior material penetration by using sub-gigahertz frequency translate into easier IoT deployment in large industrial and commercial spaces such as warehouses, refineries, mines, hospitals, schools, and military bases.

Not surprisingly, therefore, a lot of startup energy is now behind the Wi-Fi HaLow technology, which bodes well for the prospects of this technology. While 2021 ends with an optimistic note for the Wi-Fi HaLow technology, 2022 will truly decide if the time for this long-range Wi-Fi variant has actually come.

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