3 Reasons Wi-Fi Mesh Needs Wi-Fi HaLow
March 27, 2023
The Wi-Fi blackspot problem inside the home has been largely solved by Wi-Fi 6 mesh access points that allocate some of their wireless bandwidth to establish connectivity between mesh network nodes, thus extending the reach of the wireless local area network (WLAN). While this works well in many domestic situations, and for some small offices, it’s not nearly a perfect solution.
On larger properties, Wi-Fi 6 mesh access points still struggle to reliably reach some garages, secondary dwellings, and outdoor locations. This limits reliable connectivity to new Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as remote locking systems and security cameras.
Overcoming the range limitations of current Wi-Fi standards is a major challenge for enabling the IoT applications of the future. The limitations in range come down to simple physics. Wi-Fi 4, 5, and 6 operate in the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands with the more recent Wi-Fi 6E adding the 6 GHz band to the mix. While these higher frequency bands allow wider channels with faster performance, lower frequencies offer better range and penetration. So, today’s Wi-Fi networks, including Wi-Fi mesh systems, are subject to the range limitations of the higher frequency bands.
Wi-Fi HaLow is the latest wireless protocol, certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance and based on the IEEE 802.11ah standard. Wi-Fi HaLow uses lower frequencies and narrower bandwidths, which enable ten times longer reach than conventional Wi-Fi networks that operate at higher frequencies. While Wi-Fi HaLow removes the need for Wi-Fi meshing for new IoT deployments, especially in non-domestic environments, it also adds key benefits when combined with Wi-Fi 6, or soon Wi-Fi 7 mesh technology.
Secondary Wireless Backhaul for Hard-to-Reach Locations
Operating at sub-GHz frequencies, Wi-Fi HaLow can transmit data over much greater distances and penetrate materials better than other Wi-Fi standards, such as Wi-Fi 4, 5, and 6.
While 5 GHz and 6 GHz Wi-Fi technology can provide multi-Gbps backhaul links between mesh nodes at short distance, the quality of the link quickly deteriorates as Wi-Fi mesh nodes are spaced further apart. In fact, most Wi-Fi mesh access point vendors recommend spacing units not further apart than 10 meters and they do not allow users to set up mesh nodes that are farther apart in order to guarantee reliable connectivity.
Wi-Fi HaLow enables mesh access points to reach farther, creating more robust and reliable infrastructure, even if mesh nodes are spaced further apart. The sub-GHz link can be used as a secondary backhaul to enable Wi-Fi connectivity in places that are out of reach today.
And while the narrower channels do mean throughput is lower than Wi-Fi 5 and 6, Wi-Fi HaLow devices can still deliver throughputs in excess of 30 Mbps, which is fast enough for bandwidth-hungry applications such as audio streaming, video conferencing, or even watching Netflix in HD.
Wi-Fi HaLow Simplifies Wi-Fi Mesh Networks
Wireless mesh networking is inherently difficult because it involves the coordination of various nodes to create a reliable and robust network; each needing to adapt to the dynamic nature of wireless networking. Wi-Fi mesh networks are susceptible to interference from other neighboring Wi-Fi devices as well as various other wireless devices in the home, including Bluetooth headsets, Zigbee lightbulbs, or Z-Wave security sensors.
While Wi-Fi mesh access point vendors have helped mask these complexities for the end user, they still struggle when connectivity is lost or is intermittent between nodes. For example, range issues, traffic volume, or interference can make diagnosing problems difficult or impossible.
Configuring and maintaining wireless mesh networks can be significantly simplified by splitting the high-speed data plane, which inherently relies on a functional mesh, from the control plane, which requires a reliable and robust link between nodes. Wi-Fi HaLow can provide an independent out-of-band radio in each mesh node, enabling direct communication between the master and any of the end nodes. This enables reliable network configuration, problem diagnosis, and recovery, thus enhancing ease of use and optimizing overall Wi-Fi management and performance.
Prepare for the Future of Mesh Networks
International Data Corporation (IDC) forecasts a massive growth in the number of IoT devices that will be connected to networks. It estimates that there will be in excess of 40 billion IoT devices by 2025, potentially generating up to 80 zettabytes of data. Connecting those devices to networks will become a major challenge in the coming years.
Wi-Fi HaLow can free up bandwidth in the higher frequency bands by moving IoT to the sub-1 GHz band and is starting to make its way into many IoT devices because of its advantages in power consumption and range. Therefore, adding Wi-Fi HaLow to mesh access points now will enable those devices to connect without the need for additional network equipment in the future. A mesh node equipped with both Wi-Fi 6 and Wi-Fi HaLow will enable enhanced connectivity for IoT devices while supporting traditional Wi-Fi applications.
The development of mesh networks and the continued evolution of Wi-Fi have been a boon for consumers. Whether people are working from home, enabling smart home devices, boosting coverage in offices, or starting to leverage IoT, extending networks using a standards-based approach that avoids the costs of cabling and additional switches delivers significant benefits.