Wi-Fi is all around us these days because of its use in businesses, schools, offices, hospitals, and even smart cities from Paris to El Paso providing Wi-Fi internet access to citizens and tourists. Wi-Fi data, much like that sent via walkie-talkies or cell phones, is transmitted and received by radio waves. Wi-Fi is also one of the critical building blocks in broadening the scope of the Internet of Things (IoT) because Wi-Fi can connect smaller devices to a larger network. IoT requires a layered system of information, forming a data chain starting with IoT tracking devices, ending with databases where the data can be interpreted.
What Is Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi can be any wireless local-area network (sometimes called a WLAN) and has been in regular use since the late 1990s. Typically, it’s based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE) 802.11 standards for transmission of user and machine data. These common standards allow direct communication between a Wi-Fi enabled device and a router, which is itself connected to the internet.
Access to a Wi-Fi router can be free and open or it can be controlled with a password. In general, Wi-Fi is considered less secure than other types of connectivity because it doesn’t have encryption built in, but this can be layered on top through additional protocols.
There are some significant limitations to the use of Wi-Fi. As the name implies, Wi-Fi is intended for local networking and usually has a range of around 330 feet. The actual range and strength of any Wi-Fi signal depends on the exact device and antenna being used, the power output, the modulation technique, and the frequency band. With special equipment, Wi-Fi range has been extended up to 20 miles. But Wi-Fi signals can also be affected by interference from other electronic devices, microwaves, and even building walls.
Wi-Fi Use in IoT
One of the largest markets for Wi-Fi use in IoT is smart home technologies. Strategy Analytics stated that by the end of 2014, 65% of households in the world had Wi-Fi access. With advances in technology, every year it is becoming more affordable and accessible to set up in-home wireless networks. Wi-Fi networks in the home can be used to remotely control Wi-Fi enabled security systems, thermostats, and garage doors— all from your smart phone. Nest provides a wide range of products for smart homes including thermostats that can track temperature changes in the home to reduce overall energy consumption, and security cameras viewable from your cell phone to keep your home safe when you’re not there. The future is telling your thermostat to have the house cool when you arrive home from work, opening your garage door when you’re a block away, and turning off your security system before you step out of the car, all from your smart phone.
The Future of Wi-Fi
Wi-Fi still has some catching up to do before industrial implementation is adopted. While Wi-Fi in industrial IoT can be used to connect sensors on everything from farming equipment to lighting in warehouses to a wireless network, cellular connections using SIM cards are much more common. Wi-Fi technologies currently used are perfectly suited to the home environment since the strength of Wi-Fi can easily connect a single house, but Wi-Fi’s limited range makes it cumbersome to connect entire fields, factories, and warehouses into a complete wireless network. Even if a business could set up a Wi-Fi network to get a greater range, materials like concrete and steel used in industrial construction could block access to the Wi-Fi system.
One possible solution may be Wi-Fi HaLow, a new Wi-Fi technology expected to be ready for use by 2018. Wi-Fi HaLow could be an excellent solution for industrial Wi-Fi needs since it moves Wi-Fi signals to the 900 MHz range, resulting in double the range of current Wi-Fi, and better transmission through physical obstructions. With Wi-Fi HaLow, businesses would have a more reliable technology to connect an entire warehouse or factory with Wi-Fi to track via IoT systems.
Until this or another technology comes into widespread use, IoT deployments will depend on cellular connectivity to make the leap from local to wide-area networking. That’s why a self-serve IoT marketplace like Neo is so crucial. If you want to get your IoT system connected ASAP, then create a Neo account and you could have SIMs in as little as 24 hours.