It is no surprise that WiFi has come a long way since it was first introduced to consumers in 1997. Today, people around the world rely on WiFi as the number one way to communicate and stay connected. However, despite its impressive evolution over the past 20 years, the standards that dictate how our WiFi networks operate are getting an upgrade.
Enter 802.11bf: the latest standard in the IEEE 802.11™ family that is the core technology behind WiFi. For the first time ever, WiFi will officially be used for something other than communication, as this new standard will transform WiFi from a communication-only technology to a fully-fledged sensing paradigm.
As the leaders in the WiFi Sensing space, we are thrilled about the endless possibilities 802.11bf could unlock for the entire industry. This new standard is going to maximize the features, efficiencies and capabilities of WiFi Sensing, with a platform to introduce a wide range of new and life-changing applications.
The key advantage of this new standard is that there will be a defined set of expected inputs and outputs for each wireless device that is specifically related to WiFi Sensing. These regulations will enable wireless devices to behave in a specific, deterministic way. This will ensure that bandwidth is allocated more effectively, allowing the network to operate efficiently and easily support the uptake of motion sensing. Not only will this improve the efficiency and reliability of existing applications, it will open the door for many more.
Why we need a new standard
WiFi permeates our lives – it is in most of our homes, offices and increasingly in many public spaces. Despite this considerable popularity and widespread adoption, using WiFi for motion sensing is still a relatively novel concept. As a result, there is no existing standard governing WiFi Sensing…until now. The implementation of this new standard will aid its mass adoption. 802.11bf will:
- Make existing WiFi Sensing technologies more efficient and reliable
- How? By improving bandwidth allocation so that WiFi Sensing can be performed more reliably without impacting WiFi performance, and by adding more smart devices to the overall ecosystem, ensuring sure they work together seamlessly
- Open the door for new WiFi Sensing applications in the home (e.g., energy management) and elsewhere (e.g., enterprise and hospitality offerings)
- How? By defining a list of required testing protocols that a device must meet to be WiFi Sensing certified.
- Bring the predictive smart home closer to reality
- How? The standardized methods for WiFi Sensing will enable more advanced use cases that will allow for improvements to existing applications. Mass adoption and more connected devices will introduce an exciting future for the advanced smart home.
The benefits of 802.11bf will span industry-wide
Standardization will benefit the entire industry and WiFi users across the globe. It will allow companies involved at every stage in the deployment process to seamlessly work together. It will ensure compatible devices are primed to enable new, useful motion sensing features. Ultimately, this results in a better customer experience.
Standardization will make it easier for OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and Service Providers to incorporate sensing insights into their products. It provides a trusted gateway for adoption, with clear protocol and specifications, reducing the integration cycle. This provides the flexibility to work with multiple chipset vendors, instead of being locked in with just one.
Improved Timelines for Chipset Vendors
Similarly, chipset vendors are no longer limited to working with only one service vendor to layer WiFi Sensing onto their products. They will be able to integrate their chipsets with different companies without needing a custom process each time. The addition of new features and advanced updates is seamless and completed at the firmware level, meaning a new customer experience can be delivered easily and affordably.
Consistent Experience for End User
Abridged implementation and guidelines will, of course, appear to the consumer as a consistent experience regardless of provider or device. The introduction of IoT devices designated to work with WiFi Sensing will help the industry move towards a more seamless customer experience. Just as with WiFi connectivity, reliability and accessibility are crucial to cement WiFi Sensing as a trusted technology that will ultimately benefit us all.
Connecting People and Brands via Motion Insights
Standardization will also allow brands to benefit from this new technology. Devices that meet the standard would be recognized as optimal for WiFi Sensing and will have a higher probability of being selected as sensors. Due to their heightened visibility in the app, consumers are more likely to view devices most commonly used as sensors as a valuable part of their WiFi Sensing services.
How IEEE 802.11bf came to be
Early in our work with WiFi Motion, we identified several challenges that could be best solved through industry-wide cooperation. This new technology has the potential to change the course of WiFi forever, but ease of implementation and a smooth user experience are crucial to its success.
For WiFi Sensing to truly flourish and become scalable, we knew that collaboration with industry groups was the first step. We partnered with the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) to form the first WiFi Sensing Work Group. Our very own Senior Mixed-Signal Architect, Chris Beg, was integral in getting this group off the ground and presenting findings to the WBA. The first WiFi Sensing white paper was published by the group in October 2019, outlining current use cases as well as areas where the technology could grow and improve.
From there, the group’s discoveries and recommendations were brought to the IEEE. On September 29, the IEEE approved IEEE 802.11bf for WiFi Sensing. To bring this standard to life, the IEEE is responsible for defining the components, features and mechanisms that can be productized. The end result will see a list of rules and requirements that a device will have to meet to support WiFi Sensing. Throughout this process, the IEEE will work in tandem with the WiFi Alliance. The WiFi Alliance will then create the test and certification program, ensuring products meet the criteria to be WiFi Sensing certified.
The IEEE anticipates having the first draft of their proposed standard by January 2022.
A standard with endless possibility
In just over three years, 802.11bf will not only impact those with a commercial interest in WiFi, it will advance sensing to help improve the lives of people around the world. It will open up a world of new application possibilities, especially for those working alongside pioneers Cognitive Systems to unlock the full potential of WiFi Sensing. From software developers to internet service providers, and down the delivery pipeline to the end user, we are expanding our understanding of what WiFi can be used for and how it can function within our day-to-day lives. With the 802.11bf standard, the future of WiFi is in motion.
But wait…what about privacy?
We know it is important to address privacy concerns, as 802.11bf will increase the prevalence of this relatively new technology. WiFi Sensing requires the same level of governing around privacy as any other WiFi technology and is more private than most commonly used smart devices.
At Cognitive Systems, we are committed to protecting your privacy, and we take comfort in knowing that this standard will allow us to continue to do so. WiFi Motion is inherently private by design, measuring only binary data that represents changes in WiFi signals to sense motion. Unlike cameras and VoIP systems, it cannot see you, hear you or identify you.
Your privacy is top of mind in everything we do. If you’d like to learn more about our position on privacy, check out our three-part blog series: