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The Opportunities for Wi-Fi with IEEE 802.11ax

By Tom Oakley

iPass battery saving technology

Have you ever gone out to the mall or a public place for a few hours to find that by the time you return home, your mobile phone battery is almost completely drained, when you feel like you’ve barely used it? I know I have.

So what is that silent battery killer? The reality is there are quite a few, but you might be surprised to hear your Wi-Fi connection is probably consuming more power than you think. Thankfully, things could be about to get a bit better thanks to IEEE 802.11ax, the next generation standard for wireless local area networks that’s due to be publicly released in 2019. It’s been dubbed “High-Efficiency Wireless” for its better power management, thanks to something called OFDMA, which enables longer battery life by optimizing the communications between the device and the network.

Of course that’s good news for your phone battery, but the implications of this technology are even broader, since power consumption has consistently remained a big blocker to the deployment of IoT devices. Even though the idea of adding sensors and intelligence to basic objects predates the turn of the millennium, the cost of doing so has made it unfeasible on many devices, particularly at the low-end of the market. That’s because the common methods of tracking location, whether by Wi-Fi, GPS or cellular, have been battery intensive, making the device not only more expensive, but also heavier. Not to mention that GPS also fails indoors. The good news for Wi-Fi is that with IEEE 802.11ax, less battery will be consumed where it is used as a method of tracking location for IoT.

The good news doesn’t end there. There is a perfect storm brewing for Wi-Fi, and its role in the future of IoT. At iPass, we’re pretty excited about our recent announcement of a new patent that further reduces battery consumption in IoT devices that are connecting via Wi-Fi. The patent covers the geographical tracking of intermittently operable devices, specifying how a centralized, cloud-based server collects and processes data from an iPass SmartConnect™-enabled device to establish the device’s location. There’s quite a bit of jargon there, but in simple terms, this patent allows a device to connect to Wi-Fi intermittently, whenever it’s in range of an access point, and just long enough to report it’s location, thus substantially reducing battery consumption.

Take a city bicycle scheme, where thousands of bikes move around in all directions throughout the day, and pass various Wi-Fi hotspots on every journey. Connecting each bike to the Wi-Fi network can geo-locate them all at almost real-time, at lower cost and high power-efficiency that prolongs the time needed between charges.

By no means are we about to see the death of GPS, but this new frontier of Wi-Fi brought to us by IEEE 802.11ax opens up a better opportunity than ever before for Wi-Fi as a location-based solution for low-power or processor-constrained devices.