WiFi is getting a big upgrade today, thanks to three years of joint research and development by the world’s largest tech companies.
The new technology, called Wi-Fi Aware, is being released by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the non-profit trade organization that includes Apple, Microsoft, Intel and hundreds of other tech powerhouses as members.
Aware allows Wi-Fi-enabled products to discover and communicate directly with nearby devices, applications or information, without relying on cellular data or an Internet connection. Think of it as a sort of the same thing iBeacons were supposed to do but have yet to provide.
Essentially, once you’ve installed an application that leverages Aware, your device will continuously broadcast and receive broadcasts from devices in your vicinity. Users can opt in to let applications both publish availability and subscribe to receive information and connection requests.
Wi-Fi Aware is fighting directly against tools like low-energy Bluetooth and simple push notifications to create a sort of indoor GPS. For example, if you’ve entered your favorite clothing brand into Facebook and turned on proximity notifications, Facebook will be able to alert you when you’re approaching a store that’s listed some of those items on sale. And if your device detects that an old friend from high school is down the street, you could receive a notification asking if you’d like to message that person directly.
The key is that the device is constantly aware of everything in close proximity, but only chooses to connect to relevant sources of information. It’s going to be an interesting trick once it rolls out.
Even though Aware is running continuously in the background so that a device knows exactly what’s nearby before it connects, it’s incredibly power efficient, according to Edgar Figueroa, President of the WiFi Alliance — even more so than traditional WiFi, he says.
This means that Aware has no trouble functioning in a crowded environment, like a huge concert or a football game where texting is often impossible. Figueroa says that we can expect to see social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn roll out applications with Wi-Fi Aware before the end of the year.