With the remarkable ascension of the IEEE Standard 802.11TM over its 25-year history and its influence on the always-on, always-connected lifestyle for countless people around the world, it’s fair to ask whether the standard has a role to play in the nascent Internet of Things (IoT).
For those of us who work closely on continuing enhancements to the IEEE 802.11, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” In fact, as we’ll see, the standard’s current capabilities and the enhancements underway today may well provide IEEE 802.11 with decades of further influence on our lives as IoT becomes commonplace.
As every standard is a living document that, ideally, is continuously evolving, related developments are relevant and further enhancements of the standard play into this story. Let’s look at the details behind that statement.
To place IEEE 802.11’s role in IoT in context, it’s important to note that IoT will involve diverse use cases in diverse market verticals, including energy, healthcare, manufacturing, transportation, smart cities, smart buildings, smart homes and others. Every one of these markets has its own communications and connectivity requirements and challenges. The IEEE
P2413 - Standard for an Architectural Framework for the Internet of Things (IoT) working group is working on an IoT architecture, which could underlie these various verticals – so a fundamental IoT architecture serving wireless communications and connectivity in diverse market verticals is one foundation upon which IEEE 802.11 and its variants can operate.
Turning to IoT in the home – a fairly simple scenario that is perhaps most familiar to consumers – IEEE 802.11, better known by its brand, “Wi-Fi®” – already serves to connect computers, laptops, printers, smart phones, smart thermostats, and the like. As the number and diversity of loads and their distance from a router access point or gateway increases, two hurdles present themselves: the range and efficiency of devices communicating with a wireless LAN. Operating at a different frequency band, as is done with IEEE P802.11ah, is one way to deliver a more stable, longer-range connection. A proposal in the early stage of development to provide longer range in the 2.4 GHz band is known as “LRLP” or “long range, low power.” As that phrase implies, we’re working on supporting devices that for a variety of reasons will run on low power. We’ve formed the LRLP Topic Interest Group in anticipation of meeting these IoT-related challenges.
In terms of ongoing enhancements to IEEE 802.11, the work currently getting the most attention is IEEE P802.11ax, which is focused on high efficiency wireless local area networks (WLAN). This amendment’s main purpose is to increase efficiency and the number of simultaneous users; it’s not specifically aimed at IoT use cases, although they are considered. This enhancement is expected to become the standard that all chips and devices are based on and, thus, it will become the de facto standard for smart grid and IoT uses, too.
The IEEE P802.11ah amendment is focused on operations in the sub gigahertz (GHz) bands. This work relates more directly to smart grid and IoT applications than IEEE P802.11ax. Essentially, this effort takes IEEE 802.11ac™, the most recent physical and MAC (media access control) layer standard, and applies it to the 902 to 928 MHz, unlicensed band. The reason for this work is that propagation characteristics and range improve in that frequency band compared to 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz, the other primary bands used by IEEE 802.11. This enhancement will also have implications for IoT use cases, and not just in smart homes.
IEEE 802.11 has been the foundation for numerous enhancements that have been developed as new use cases and challenges arise. The current crop of enhancement efforts is being made precisely because the advent of IoT demands new capabilities from this flexible, durable, long-serving standard. As the unique communications and connectivity requirements and challenges of IoT in diverse industry verticals are anticipated, we’ll meet them head on with further enhancements to IEEE 802.11.