Aviacomm and Newracom have unveiled a reference design for an IEEE 802.11ah modem, aimed at IoT and M2M devices. The sub-GHz WiFi technology, also called HaLow, has great upside in the IoT, but faces a multitude of issues to overcome before it can become a mass market offering.
New wireless technology is critical to progress in the IoT. It enables devices to reach farther, live longer, or cost less than their forebears, and for this reason, there’s always a lot of buzz surrounding new experiments and standards – and IEEE 802.11ah is no different.
Sub-GHz WiFi potentially offers a lot of the benefits associated with low-power wireless protocols like ZigBee and Z-Wave, but in a package that is familiar to the mass-market WiFi offering that has achieved extremely powerful economies of scale. However, the sub-GHz offering won’t enjoy those same production benefits due to the fact that it uses a different ISM band than its much more common 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz brothers.
This raises questions of whether you can achieve similar production economies with the 802.11ah chips. If it was to use the same 2.4 GHz or 5.8 GHz RF components, then the physical differences might be minimal enough that you could make the change using only software. However, creating an entirely new production ecosystem in order to churn out sub-GHz WiFi chips may prove too tall a hurdle to leap for mass market deployments.
However, niches in the IoT can still enjoy healthy margins, while avoiding the races to the bottom that will consume the more mainstream applications. HaLow, often positioned as a smart home technology, might find itself adopted exclusively by one particular vertical or application – or it could become the next design that reaches the 100m-unit shipment threshold that would outline it as a wireless giant.
Currently, HaLow uses region-specific sub-GHz bands, ranging (broadly) from 755 MHz to 928 MHz. For super-optimized designs, a smaller range of the RF spectrum should enable a lower cost chip, but there are many advocates that would argue that the issue of producing slightly different chips for regions would be easy enough technically, and of great benefit for the applications themselves.
Thanks to the lower frequencies, HaLow enjoys better penetration than 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz WiFi – effectively giving it a longer range, and allowing WiFi to perform functions that mesh networking protocols or LPWAN technologies are positioning themselves to provide.
The new reference design is based on the Newracom NRC7271, a baseband processor, and Aviacomm’s ARF3010 – a chip that the company says is a high performance RFIC. The pair say that the modem design delivers advanced software features that support global sub-GHz ISM applications, for both access points and clients.
The design claims client performance of 150Kbps to 1.95Mbps, using 1 MHz or 2 MHz channels. The access point design claims to be able to support 8,000 terminals, with bit-rates ranging from 150kbps to 15Mbps, using 1 MHz, 2 MHz, or 4 MHz channels.
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