It is clear that the smart home, and the broader internet of things (IoT), will need to use, and integrate, several wireless protocols, from the ultra-short range (NFC) to the personal area (Bluetooth, Thread, ZigBee) to the long range (LoRa, Sigfox or new LTE variants). In between all these, and overlapping with many of them, is WiFi.
WiFi has the best claim to be a general purpose network which could support a majority of connections in the IoT. It has some issues, such as the relatively laborious activation process, but these are minor compared to the changes LTE needs to make for its technology to be fit for purpose in IoT networks, whether wide or local area. WiFi is already well established in some of the first markets for IoT technologies, such as homes and cities, and its standards are flexible enough to be implemented in very localized networks, or across metro areas (especially with the emergence of 802.11ah next year to support low power wide area systems in the 868 MHz/900 MHz bands).
The WiFi Alliance and the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) are both stepping up their IoT programs to accelerate the development of platforms for key markets like city management, and to present their technology as the voice of unity and flexibility, even while other areas of the wireless IoT become fragmented between rival standards (the Thread-Bluetooth-ZigBee stand-offs in the connected home, the battles between Sigfox, LoRa and LTE in the wide area).
The latest action by the WiFi Alliance, which certifies WiFi equipment and devices for standards compliance and interoperability, is to add a new level of membership focused specifically on the home. The Implementer Member class is for companies which make connected gadgets such as door locks, smart lightbulbs and connected appliances. Its aim highlights one of the key challenges of the IoT – that companies will join the ecosystem which have no interest or expertise in connectivity per se, but want to deliver connected products which can interoperate with others and have robust security and QoS.
This is a very different game from the traditional mobile and wireless markets in which most players, such as handset vendors, were deeply involved in defining and implementing wireless technologies. That is changing, said the Alliance, as firms add connectivity to products which have always been lo-tech, especially in the home.
Implementer membership will enable such companies to deliver the WiFi Certified seal of approval and ensure their connected gadgets are interoperable and secure. But they will not be able to contribute to WiFi technology, marketing and regulatory programs.
“These companies can focus on other aspects more closely related to their line of business, while ensuring WiFi interoperability, legacy compatibility and secure operations with billions of devices in the WiFi installed base,” the Alliance said in a statement.
On the platform front, the Alliance – which, over the years, has increasingly taken a technology and standards development role separately from the core IEEE 802.11 work – will soon expand its range of solutions for the smart home and IoT, particularly focusing on reducing power consumption to Bluetooth levels for wearables, sensors and industrial automation. This could see WiFi moving further into the personal area network space. The Alliance is also working on secure and simple way to connect and configure devices that do not have a display or input mechanisms.
“Implementer Members, along with all WiFi Alliance members who ensure their products are Wi-Fi Certified, can be confident that their devices contain the highest level of government-grade, WPA2 security,” the Alliance went on. “Because of this, Implementer membership will ensure the terrific WiFi user experience of the last 15 years extends to new device categories and market segments, including smart home and IoT.”