IoT Spurs Wi-Fi Work, Surfaces Non-Technical Issues
The Internet of Things is pushing wireless technology forward as marketing and legal issues loom.
The idea of the communications-enabled business process is relatively new to the UC world, but not so in the mobile market. From fork lift operations and fleet management systems, to meter reading, ticket scanning, and rental car check-ins, mobile communications have been integral to business processes for longer than we can remember -- and with the Internet of Things (IoT), we're going to see the number of such connected devices increase a thousandfold.
Two recent news pieces have got me thinking about this. The first came from the Wi-Fi Alliance, which announced a lower-capacity Wi-Fi radio link aimed at the emerging IoT market. The other came in a front-page Wall Street Journal story about the difficulties the insurance industry faces getting consumers to buy into important IoT programs.
Getting IoT to Work
The new Wi-Fi radio link, dubbed "Wi-Fi HaLow" (pronounced "HAY-low"), will be standardized as IEEE 802.11ah. The idea is to develop a lower capacity but longer range Wi-Fi radio link interface with better battery performance more suitable for IoT applications than previous Wi-Fi versions. Wi-Fi HaLow will operate in the 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz bands, as well as in in the older 900-MHz band.
Since many of the connected "things" will be mobile or appliance-like devices, wireless may be the primary transmission technology for the IoT. Wi-Fi is already playing a major IoT role, primarily in the smart home sector where the limited range of traditional Wi-Fi devices will meet the in-home IoT need. However, once you walk out the door, cellular data (or some proprietary technology like we see in wireless meter reading) will become the option of choice.
The 900-MHz industrial, scientific and medical (ISM) band, one of the first unlicensed bands to open, saw initial use for first-generation cordless phones and baby monitors. With the lower frequency, it offers roughly twice the range as the 2.4-GHz band with the same transmit power (some estimates put the range at up to 1 km); it also features better wall penetration characteristics than does either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz. The gotcha is limited availability.
The 900-MHz band runs from 902 to 928 MHz, a total bandwidth of only 26 MHz. A typical Wi-Fi channel occupies 20 MHz of radio band, and with the newer 802.11n and ac standards, the channel size can range from 20 to 160 MHz. In any event, you are only getting one standard Wi-Fi channel out of the whole 900-MHz band.
Fortunately, most IoT devices don't need much in the way of transmission capacity -- after all, how much can your toaster have to say? While the standard will eventually support data rates of up to 18 Mbps, the rates can be as low as 150 Kbps in a 1-MHz channel. The 18-Mbps data rate would require a 4-MHz channel and the Wi-Fi Alliance says that data rates as high as 78 Mbps are possible using a 16-MHz channel. The initial standard will only address channel sizes of up to 4 MHz.
The Wi-Fi Alliance doesn't plan initial certifications until 2018, so industry players have plenty of time to get ready. I'll be watching for Wi-Fi HaLow deployments with much interest. We might see Wi-Fi HaLow in the 2.4-GHz or 5-GHz bands for smart home applications, and at 900 MHz for wide-area use. Wi-Fi router vendors might support Wi-Fi HaLow in their next-generation home devices, while other vendors incorporate the 900-MHz version in small cell deployments.
Getting User Buy-in
While Wi-Fi HaLow can help make IoT work, IoT's success is contingent on more than just technology, as discussed in the WSJ article I mentioned above. The story, "Car Insurers Find Tracking Devices Are a Tough Sell," describes the trials and tribulations of programs like Progressive's Snapshot. The idea is that insurers are trying to get drivers to install monitoring devices in the hopes of earning better insurance rates.
Via the data gathered from these onboard devices, the insurance companies have learned some interesting things, such as the fact that drivers who slam on brakes more than eight times per 500 miles are 73% more likely to get into an accident in a given year. They've also learned that a significant percentage of drivers seem to feel this type of program is too much of an invasion of privacy.
Progressive is trying to address privacy concerns by shortening the assessment period to six months -- hence the name "Snapshot" -- since its data shows that driving habits don't change much over time anyways. Even with a shortened assessment period, Progressive also found it needs to publish a privacy guide regarding how it uses collected data.
Where We're Headed
Wireless technology continues to improve, allowing the creation of countless services people quickly adopt and soon find indispensible. IoT is the next big manifestation of this, and will take us into uncharted waters. With the number of devices collecting information about us, the range of marketing and legal challenges they will encounter will make the BYOD adventure look like a walk in the park. So as we embark on IoT, we may well learn that the real challenges aren't technical at all.
If you're interested in learning more about Wi-Fi HaLow and the IoT, join me at Enterprise Connect 2016, taking place March 7 to 10 in Orlando, Fla., for the session "Key Mobile Technologies for the Next Five Years." If you register here by Friday, Feb. 12, you can even save an additional $200 off the early bird rate. This discount, available using the code NJPOST for those signing up for an entire event pass or Tuesday through Thursday conference pass, represents a total savings of $700 off the onsite price! As an added bonus, register three or more attendees from your company for even bigger savings.