So What’s All This HaLow Long-Range WiFi About Then?

We’re all used to wireless networking, but if there’s one thing the ubiquitous WiFi on 2.4 or 5 GHz lacks, it’s range. Inside buildings, it will be stopped in its tracks by anything more than a mediocre wall, and outside, it can be difficult to connect at any useful rate more than a few tens of metres away without resorting to directional antennas and hope. Technologies such as LoRa provide a much longer range at the expense of minuscule bandwidth, but beyond that, there has been little joy. As [Andreas Spiess] points out in a recent video though, this is about to change, as devices using the so-called HaLow or IEEE 802.11ah protocol are starting to edge into the realm of affordability.

Perhaps surprisingly, he finds the 5 GHz variant to be best over a 1km test with a far higher bandwidth. However, we’d say that his use of directional antennas is something of a cheat. Where it does come into its own in his tests, though, is through masonry, with far better penetration across floors of a building. We think that this will translate to better outdoor performance when the line of sight is obstructed.

There’s one more thing he brings to our attention, which seasoned users of LoRA may already be aware of. These lower frequency allocations are different between the USA and Europe, so should you order one for yourself, it would make sense to ensure you have the appropriate model for your continent. Otherwise, we look forward to more HaLow devices appearing and the price falling even further because we think this will lead to some good work in future projects.

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802.11ah Wi-Fi HaLOW: The 1 Kilometer WiFi Standard

You too can add long-distance WiFi to your laptop with this new not-quite dongle solution. (Credit: Ben Jeffery)
You, too, can add long-distance WiFi to your laptop with this new not-quite dongle solution. (Credit: Ben Jeffery)

The 802.11ah WiFi (HaLow) standard is fairly new, having only been introduced in 2017. It’s supposed to fall somewhere between standard WiFi used in domiciles and offices and the longer range but low-bitrate LoRaWAN, ZigBee, and others, with bandwidth measured in megabits per second. In a recent video, [Ben Jeffery] looks at the 802.11ah chipsets available today and some products integrating these.

The primary vendors selling these chipsets are TaiXin Semiconductor (TXW8301), Morse Micro (MM6108), and Newracom (NRC7394), with a range of manufacturers selling modules integrating these. Among the products using these, [Ben] found an Ethernet range extender kit (pictured) that takes 12V input as power, along with Ethernet. Running some distance tests in a quarry showed that 300 meters was no problem getting a strong signal, though adding some trees between the two transceivers did attenuate the signal somewhat.

Another interesting product [Ben] tested is what is essentially an 802.11ah-based WiFi extender, using an 802.11ah link between the server node – with an Ethernet socket – and a client that features a standard 2.4 GHz 802.11n that most WiFi-enabled devices can connect to. Using this, he was able to provide a solid ~10 Mbps link to a cabin near the main house (~10 meters) through two outside walls. What makes 802.11ah so interesting is that it is directly compatible with standard Ethernet and WiFi protocols and uses the 900 MHz spectrum, for which a wide range of alternative antennae exist that can conceivably extend the range even more.

(Thanks to [Keith Olson] for the tip)

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Long-Distance Wi-Fi With Steam Deck Server

It’s no secret that the Steam Deck is a powerful computer, especially for its price point. It has to be capable enough to run modern PC games while being comfortable as a handheld, all while having a useful amount of battery life. Thankfully Valve didn’t lock down the device like most smartphone manufacturers, allowing the computer to run whatever operating system and software the true owner of the device wants to run. That means that a whole world of options is open for this novel computer, like using it to set up an 802.11ah Wi-Fi network over some pretty impressive distances.

Of course the Steam Deck is more of a means to an end for this project; the real star of the show is DragonOS, a Debian-based Linux distribution put together by [Aaron] to enable easy access to the tools needed for plenty of software-defined radio projects like this one. Here, he’s using it to set up a long-distance Wi-Fi network on one side of a lake, then testing it by motoring over to the other side of the lake to access the data from the KrakenSDR setup running on the Deck, as well as performing real-time capture of IQ data that was being automatically demodulated and feed internally to whispercpp.

While no one will be streaming 4K video over 802.11ah, it’s more than capable of supporting small amounts of data over relatively large distances, and [Aaron] was easily able to SSH to his access point from over a kilometer away with it. If the lake scenery in the project seems familiar at all, it’s because this project is an extension of another one of his DragonOS projects using a slightly lower frequency to do some impressive direction-finding, also using the Steam Deck as a base of operations.

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WiFi Alliance Introduces 802.11ah

For the last decade or so, wireless networking has been entirely about short range, high speed communications. The type of networking needed by an Internet of things is fundamentally incompatible with WiFi, and the reason for this is due to the frequencies used by WiFi networking gear. 2.4 and 5 GHz are very fast, but cannot penetrate through walls as easily as lower frequencies.

This week the WiFi alliance introduced IEEE 802.11ah into the WiFi spec. It’s called WiFi HaLow (pronounced like angel’s headwear), and unlike other versions of 802.11, WiFi HaLow uses low frequencies for low bandwidth but a much larger range.

WiFi HaLow uses the 900 MHz ISM band to communicate, divided into 26 channels. The bandwidth is low – a mere 100 kbps, but the range is huge: one kilometer, or about four times the approximate range of 802.11n.

This is not the only WiFi spec aimed at the Internet of Things. In 2014, the WiFi alliance introduced 802.11af, a networking protocol operating in unused TV whitespace spectrum between 54 and 790 MHz. 802.11af has a similar range as 802.11ah – about one kilometer – but products and chips utilizing 802.11af have been rare and hard to find.