What Is Wi-Fi HaLow, and Do I Need It?

Key Takeaways

  • Wi-Fi HaLow is a wireless technology based on the IEEE 802.11ah protocol, offering long signal range and low power consumption for IoT devices.
  • Unlike traditional Wi-Fi protocols, Wi-Fi HaLow operates on sub-1GHz frequencies.
  • A single Wi-Fi HaLow access point can connect with over 8,000 devices, making it ideal for IoT devices, smart city projects, and mesh networking systems.

Although Wi-Fi 7, being the newest and fastest Wi-Fi, is getting all the attention, an emerging wireless technology called Wi-Fi HaLow is quietly poised to transform the Internet of Things (IoT) landscape. Here’s everything you need to know about Wi-Fi HaLow.

What Is Wi-Fi HaLow?

Wi-Fi HaLow is a wireless technology specification that is based on the IEEE 802.11ah protocol. It was first introduced in 2016 and runs on sub-1GHz frequencies, unlike the traditional Wi-Fi 5, Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E, and Wi-Fi 7 protocols, which use 2.4GHz, 5GHz, and 6GHz frequencies.

wi-fi halow features
Wi-Fi Alliance

As lower frequencies can travel longer distances, Wi-Fi HaLow can provide connectivity up to a kilometer and even more in the case of a line-of-sight connection. However, the use of a lower frequency also means it has narrower channels and a lower bandwidth, resulting in slower data rates. Still, it can deliver data speeds from 150Kbps over longer distances and up to 86.7Mbps over shorter distances.

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It’s not a replacement for the traditional Wi-Fi standards. Instead, it’s designed to complement the existing Wi-Fi protocols and offer connectivity to devices over a longer distance without needing wireless extenders, multiple access points, and complex wired connections. IoT devices, smart city projects, and mesh networking will benefit the most from it.

In the US, Wi-Fi HaLow operates on the 900Hz frequency that is part of the license-exempt spectrum, making it free to use for everyone. However, depending on which sub-gigahertz frequencies are available worldwide, Wi-Fi HaLow may operate on different frequencies in other countries.

How Is Wi-Fi HaLow Different From Traditional Wi-Fi?

Traditional Wi-Fi protocols have seen the most advancement in wireless speeds and latency. But signal range has suffered in this rush for speeds. Wi-Fi HaLow is an attempt to fix this glaring hole in Wi-Fi’s suite of capabilities, particularly in a world where IoT devices are growing exponentially and need a reliable way to remain connected with each other and the internet.

So, as mentioned, Wi-Fi HaLow provides a much better transmission range than conventional Wi-Fi. But most importantly, its use of a lower frequency means it’s better at penetrating barriers, such as walls, similar to how 2.4GHz Wi-Fi offers a better signal range and wall penetration than 5GHz and 6GHz Wi-Fi bands.

HaLow also consumes much less power, as it can stay in a significantly lower power state thanks to various sleep modes defined in the 802.11ah specification. So, it can cater to battery-powered devices, such as sensors, wireless security cameras, and more, and help them run for months and even years without needing a battery replacement or charging.

Another advantage of Wi-Fi HaLow over traditional Wi-Fi is its ability to connect with over 8,000 devices simultaneously, compared to 2007 devices for Wi-Fi 6.

What About Z-Wave, Zigbee, or Thread?

Wi-Fi HaLow isn’t the first wireless technology to offer connectivity to IoT devices. Other wireless technologies, such as Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Thread, already exist. But each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

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Z-Wave is similar to Wi-Fi HaLow in several aspects. It also uses sub-1GHz frequencies and, as a result, has a longer range and low power consumption. But despite having a long transmission range, it can’t match HaLow’s reach. A single Z-Wave network also can’t support more than 232 devices. Plus, you need a controller to operate Z-Wave devices effectively.

Notably, Z-Wave Alliance introduced a new Z-Wave Long Range version in 2020, which brings the signal range to Wi-Fi HaLow’s level and increases the number of supported devices in a Z-Wave network to 4,000.

Zigbee, on the other hand, operates on the 780MHz, 868Hz, 915MHz, and 2.4GHz frequencies. However, most home-use Zigbee devices utilize the 2.4GHz band. So, it has a faster data transfer rate than Z-Wave but a limited range. It also doesn’t have the best interoperability record, isn’t as secure as Wi-Fi, and needs a “coordinator” device to control the network. But it can support over 65,000 nodes in a single network, much higher than Z-Wave and even Wi-Fi HaLow.

Thread is one of the newer low-power wireless protocols. It also uses the 2.4GHz frequency to connect and communicate with other Thread devices. Thread devices are IP-based and can connect to each other without a hub or bridge. But they still need a Thread border router to connect the Thread network to the internet. Thread networks are also limited to about 250 devices and are not ideal for relatively high-bandwidth devices, such as security cameras.

So, while each of these special low-powered wireless protocols does many things right, each has its drawbacks. In comparison, Wi-Fi HaLow has an impressive signal range, doesn’t need a hub, has excellent security, can connect to over 8,000 devices, and has reasonable data transmission speeds. Plus, you get seamless interoperability, and by using a different band than existing Wi-Fi networks, HaLow doesn’t clog the existing infrastructure.

How Will Wi-Fi HaLow Benefit You?

Wi-Fi HaLow has the potential to benefit diverse use cases, but regular home users will see the most impact in smart home devices, IoT, and mesh networking systems. With almost every household device turning smart and needing wireless access for connectivity, the 2.4GHz wireless band is seeing the most congestion, as it can only have three non-overlapping channels.

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But Wi-Fi HaLow operates on a completely different frequency than conventional Wi-Fi and can have more than 26 non-overlapping channels. As a result, the chances of interference and congestion are almost negligible unless you have thousands and thousands of devices vying for connectivity.

Moreover, its extended range allows it to serve IoT and smart home devices from a single access point over massive properties. So, for example, you can have a single router or a mesh system covering your primary residence to serve high-bandwidth devices. But with Wi-Fi HaLow also thrown into the mix, the same router or mesh system can also cover sensors, security cameras, and other relatively low-bandwidth devices on the property perimeter, outhouses, guest houses, and other portions of the property. This removes the need to wire the entire property or install additional mesh nodes or Wi-Fi extenders to offer extended signal coverage.

How Can You Get Wi-Fi HaLow?

Like any new Wi-Fi generation, you need both the wireless router and the device to support Wi-Fi HaLow to get its benefits. Unfortunately, the uptake of Wi-Fi HaLow has been slow, but with growing interest, we should see more devices with this Wi-Fi spec going forward.

That said, some manufacturers have released Wi-Fi extenders that incorporate HaLow to extend the range of a wireless network to hundreds of meters. Regarding devices, Abode showed off a new security camera called Edge at CES 2024, which uses Wi-Fi HaLow and is expected to reach the market in Q1 2024 for about $200. Taiwanese manufacturer Chicony is also planning on introducing security cameras using Wi-Fi HaLow.

Unfortunately, your existing wireless router or device won’t be able to enjoy HaLow benefits via a firmware upgrade as it requires new hardware. This is similar to how Wi-Fi 6E routers or client devices can’t get Wi-Fi 7 access with a software update.

Wi-Fi HaLow completes the Wi-Fi connectivity freeway by essentially adding a slow lane for Internet of Things devices that is reliable, secure, and seamless. This way, the existing connectivity freeway remains undisturbed, and moving IoT devices from existing lanes to the slow lanes also clears up bandwidth for other devices.

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