Wi-Fi Aware Proximity Discovery

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Wi-Fi Aware is a forthcoming update to the ubiquitous wireless protocol that will add beacon-like features for discovering and connecting to nearby devices. The nonprofit Wi-Fi Alliance will begin certifying devices for the new feature later this year, and it should show up in smartphones and other products by 2016.

Like existing beacon technologies, Wi-Fi Aware lets a device broadcast short pings so that other devices can know a little bit about it without establishing a two-way connection. That’s more or less the same as how devices find Wi-Fi access points, but Wi-Fi Aware adds the ability to transmit app-specific data. Like the decision to connect to an access point, broadcasting or subscribing to any particular kind of Wi-Fi Aware signal will be completely up to the user.

Here’s an example: You’re taking photos at a concert. You set your phone to broadcast a Wi-Fi Aware ping letting others know your photos are available for sharing through the (make-believe, as far as we know) PhotoBomb app. Other concert-goers have their phones set to listen for pings announcing nearby PhotoBomb content. Wi-Fi Aware, running in the background, pops up a notification and lets them access your photos through the PhotoBomb app -- which could mean connecting to a traditional access point and viewing your album in the cloud, or establishing a Wi-Fi Direct connection to zap the photos straight from your phone to theirs.

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Other examples include finding nearby partners for a mobile game, or discovering Wi-Fi enabled Internet of Things devices to interact with. For IoT developers, it will also allow for devices to communicate with one another by broadcasting small chunks of data, like location or sensor status, as part of their ping.

Unlike an in-use Wi-Fi connection, in which data flows constantly back and forth from device to access point, Aware pings are short and occasional one-way busts that shouldn’t drain much battery. One of the technical challenges the Wi-Fi Alliance is working on is to establish a way for all Wi-Fi Aware devices to broadcast (and listen) on the same “heartbeat” -- allowing the radio chip to rest between pings without missing nearby signals.

Wi-Fi Aware should be supported by several chip manufacturers by the time the program launches later this year, and it won’t take long for OS and app developers to add software support once the devices are in the wild.

To learn more, ping the video below or visit the Alliances landing page for Aware.


Related:
Bluetooth Beacon Handbook, Google’s “Physical Web”