Wi-Fi Aware protocol stakes out your surroundings

The Wi-Fi Aware protocol could provide new reasons not to talk verbally to people on public transport(Credit: Wi-Fi Alliance)

Wi-Fi technology has helped bring a world of information to our fingertips via mobile devices, but a new certification program from the Wi-Fi Alliance aims to make the technology a bit more local. The Wi-Fi Aware protocol is designed to extend Wi-Fi's capabilities to improve on current proximity-based functions without the need for cellular, Wi-Fi hotspot or GPS connections.

This new protocol could make applications like multiplayer gaming, close geo-social networking and file sharing fast and secure within a typical Wi-Fi range of 100-150 ft (30-45 m). Airport gates could make your boarding pass automatically appear, or your favourite shop could advertise its specials to you as you walk by.

Current location-aware applications generally use our devices' GPS, phone tower and Wi-Fi hotspot information to calculate our position, then cellular data or Wi-Fi to send that information to a cloud. We then receive data back and the application unpacks and neatly displays the information through its interface. The duration of this exchange is minimal, but it has significant effects on the power usage of our devices. Wi-Fi Aware is intended to enable a new level of efficiency with close-range, user-to-user connectivity over the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz frequency bands.

The Wi-Fi Alliance says continuous discovery of compatible devices is made possible without without putting undue strain on battery life, with multiple Wi-Fi Aware devices forming clusters that share a common "heartbeat" signal that contains information about the availability of nearby services.

Basic information, such as location data, sensor readings and services in close proximity, can also be exchanged between devices bidirectionally without having to connect to an unfamiliar device. Then, if approved, applications can then quickly transition to a high bandwidth Wi-Fi connection via a Wi-Fi Direct of standard Wi-Fi connection.

Users can decide what they want to see (subscribe), what they’d like others to see (publish), and opt-in or out of disclosing identifying information on an app by app basis via their privacy settings.

Many current mobile devices will already contain the required hardware for the Wi-Fi Aware protocol, so simple firmware updates can enable it, but compatibility will depend on the capabilities of individual devices. But as is the case with any new protocol, any improved functionality will only be experienced if and when developers embrace it.

The video below gives an overview of the Wi-Fi Aware protocol.

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