Wi-Fi technology goes beacon-like with upcoming Wi-Fi Aware feature

The Wi-Fi Alliance is using the week of CES 2015 to announce a new capability coming to future devices: a feature that makes it easier for users to discover nearby devices, applications and information before making a Wi-Fi connection.

Called Wi-Fi Aware, the solution, which is expected to be Wi-Fi Certified in products this year, is another name for the neighbor awareness networking spec code named NAN. It's designed to continuously send very small messages to enable service discovery for a range of applications.

The Wi-Fi Aware-certified devices will look for other Wi-Fi Aware devices that are interested in gaming, peer-to-peer messaging or media sharing, as well as location-specific services such as proximity assessment, contextual notifications and offers. The user then launches an application, which connects via Wi-Fi Direct or traditional Wi-Fi, to use the service.

Source: Wi-Fi Alliance

It's designed to work well in crowded environments and indoors with minimal power consumption, according to Kelly Davis-Felner, vice president of marketing at the Wi-Fi Alliance. A consumer could be in the basement of a subway station that doesn't have hotspot or cellular connectivity and still use Wi-Fi Aware to find interesting things nearby, she said.

One use case: You're waiting in a subway station and happen to be a fan of Minecraft. Using Wi-Fi Aware, your device will look around for any other people who love to play the game and are looking for a challenger. It does that by pinging other devices within Wi-Fi range, she said. Once another device is found, it can initiate a session. "Wi-Fi Aware stops at the point when you launch that app," she told FierceWirelessTech.

Other use cases might be getting more information about a particular artist or style of art while visiting an art museum, or arranging for delivery of a beer to Row 42 during a sporting event--provided the concessionaire walking the stadium, for example, is equipped with a Wi-Fi Aware device as well.

Davis-Felner notes that it is not a precise location technology. "It's subject to all the vagaries that Wi-Fi is, to the standpoint of locationing," she said.

There are overlapping use cases with beacon or iBeacon technology, which today primary uses Bluetooth Low Energy. But there are differences as well. Wi-Fi Aware is industry-wide and agnostic in the sense that it can work with Android, iOS, BlackBerry or another operating system, she said. 

The alliance expects Wi-Fi Aware products to be certified by the July timeframe, and thus far, it has broad support from the same companies one would expect to be behind any Wi-Fi technology effort, she said. Most likely, it will first start to get embedded in phones, then tablets, gaming devices and later, stationary devices like interactive maps.

For more:
- see the press release

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