Wi-Fi HaLow™ and LoRaWAN: How do the technologies compare?
Wi-Fi HaLow™ made quite a splash at CES 2023. Newracom exhibited the capabilities of Wi-Fi HaLow with a live demonstration that included cameras, sensors, and smart shelf labels that were operated through a single Wi-Fi HaLow access point (AP). The different devices showcased the wide range of Wi-Fi HaLow IoT applications.
Newracom was excited to showcase Wi-Fi HaLow at the event, and one common question arose on multiple occasions: how does Wi-Fi HaLow technology compare to LoRaWAN? While both Wi-Fi HaLow and LoRaWAN are in the LPWAN category, Wi-Fi HaLow will continue to grow in use and be deployed where other LPWAN technologies fall short.
LoRaWAN is a current leader in wide-area coverage with a distance record of 766 kilometers (km), or about 476 miles (mi). While that may be its maximum standard range, a typical range in practice is 5 km in an urban environment and 10 km in rural line-of-sight conditions.
In comparison, Wi-Fi HaLow is marketed as having a range of 1 km; however, our testing revealed an even higher observed capability. In line-of-sight tests, we reached 3 km for data communication and over 600 meters (m) for HD-quality video transmission with Wi-Fi HaLow. Wi-Fi HaLow offers different channel configurations and modulation techniques that can maximize range or data speeds, and even more interesting, it can also be deployed in a mesh topography for an even further range if needed.
Wi-Fi HaLow offers significantly better data transfer speeds than LoRaWAN. LoRaWAN defines multiple data rates which are a combination of Spread Factor (SF) and channel bandwidth (125 Kilohertz (kHz), 250 kHz, or 500 kHz). LoRaWAN data transfer speeds range from 250 bits per second (bps) in the longest-range setting to roughly 22 kilobits per second (Kbps) in its fastest shortest-range configuration. At the longest ranges, it can take several seconds to transmit a 1 KB message. The low speed of LoRaWAN is the tradeoff for its long range and comes at the cost of limited network scalability, high Packet Error Rates (PER), and the inability to do over-the-air firmware updates. LoRaWAN’s throughput may be sufficient for simple sensor applications but quickly runs into limitations for more sophisticated use cases.
Wi-Fi HaLow data rates range from 150 Kbps to over 15 Mbps, over 600 times faster than LoRaWAN while still achieving good range. In open environments, Wi-Fi HaLow has demonstrated over a 1 Megabit per second (Mbps) throughput at a distance of 3 km. Whereas LoRaWAN can only truly handle a network of sensors, Wi-Fi HaLow can support bi-directional communication applications ranging from sensors to wireless HD video. This has opened the floodgates of ideas and solutions for large-area IoT deployments. Commercial buildings and Industrial IoT applications have been early adopters of Wi-Fi HaLow for use cases requiring higher throughput than LoRaWAN was able to provide.
The comparison of battery life between LoRaWAN and Wi-Fi HaLow is a complicated one. Both technologies can be low-power enough to enable battery-powered devices in the field for years. However, a deeper consideration must be made for those looking to maximize their device’s field life. At first glance, LoRaWAN appears to have lower power consumption when sending and receiving data, but, due to the faster speed of Wi-Fi HaLow, the time transmitting or receiving data is over 400 times quicker than LoRaWAN, thus giving Wi-Fi HaLow the edge when it comes to reduced power consumption. If we capture this energy efficiency by measuring Bits per Joule, we can see that Wi-Fi HaLow is over 7 times as energy efficient as LoRaWAN in Tx/Rx and yields a 50% increase in battery life. The Wi-Fi HaLow device would complete transmission and go to sleep while the LoRaWAN device would still be transmitting.
Ease of network integration and ecosystem
One of the biggest benefits of Wi-Fi HaLow is its ease of integration within the larger Wi-Fi portfolio. Wi-Fi HaLow is an IP-based network and an open standard based on IEEE 802.11ah and its network implementation is built upon the same architecture as Wi-Fi. While the spectrum is different from traditional Wi-Fi, the nuts and bolts of the network are the same. This helps ease users into the network architecture and further benefits them by utilizing some of the know-how already developed when setting up Wi-Fi HaLow networks.
LoRaWAN has the products and has established a community to support new networks and designs and a certification body to ensure all LoRaWAN products are compatible and work with each other. LoRaWAN also has the maturity of time and many end devices, and sensors are in commercial products today. On the other hand, Wi-Fi HaLow is a new and growing ecosystem. While it does not have the current robust lineup of LoRaWAN, many industry leaders and supporters have begun committing to the development of various Wi-Fi HaLow-enabled devices and equipment to meet growing IoT demands while gaining access to the broader Wi-Fi ecosystem.
Both LoRaWAN and Wi-Fi HaLow have security features built into the technology: long-range wireless technologies have a larger footprint for malicious actors to connect to. LoRaWAN uses static keys and dynamically generated session keys, and in contrast, Wi-Fi HaLow uses the latest WPA3™ security, the same as that of the newest Wi-Fi devices, which is mandatory for Wi-Fi Alliance certification. Both offer reasonable security measures, but Wi-Fi HaLow has more reliable security as well as the ability to remotely update devices in case any new vulnerabilities come to light.
Choosing between LoRaWAN and Wi-Fi HaLow
While LoRaWAN may prove sufficient for monitoring low-data sensor networks over kilometers in range, the necessity for transmitting more data such as images, video, or software updates makes Wi-Fi HaLow the obvious choice. By taking a closer look at how each technology handles the number of devices, power consumption, and ease of deployment, the decision-making process becomes much more complex. After thorough consideration, the extra data throughput of Wi-Fi HaLow can help future-proof IoT deployments, and is filling the gap between LoRaWAN and Wi-Fi and enabling new IoT solutions to the market.