Wi-Fi Aware certification process revs up

New tech allows smartphone users to find others in low-power mode for games or collaboration apps

LAS VEGAS -- An emerging wireless service called Wi-Fi Aware could allow smartphone and tablet users to easily locate users of nearby devices in crowded locations to then play games or conduct business collaborations.

Wi-Fi Aware capabilities will first be added to silicon chips later in 2015 and then possibly to smartphones and tablets in 2016, the Wi-Fi Alliance announced at International CES today. The Alliance is also setting up a certification program to be ready around mid-2015 for Wi-Fi Aware products and offering software tools for developers, similar to what it has done in the past to certify that Wi-Fi products will interoperate.

With a Wi-Fi Aware smartphone, a user could enter a busy train station or office and find an opponent to play a game or to conduct a peer-to-peer videoconference or other collaboration. The two users then could launch a game or collaboration app to work over Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi Direct to interact.

Wi-Fi Aware's "neighbor awareness" software operates continuously in the background, sending out short ping-type messages that use very few bits of data, lessening device power consumption compared to when an app is actually connected, according to the Alliance. Using Wi-Fi Aware not only saves power, but makes it easier to learn what kinds of games or services are nearby before a connection is made.

In that sense, Wi-Fi Aware works something like Apple's iBeacon technology. "iBeacon is similar to Aware and there's really no reason you couldn't run iBeacon over Aware," Kelly Davis-Felner, vice president of marketing at the Alliance, said in an interview before CES.

Various chip makers are developing Wi-Fi Aware products and Broadcom said in a blog in September that it will use similar technology in coming products.

Davis-Felner said that Aware could also be added to different operating systems, making it possible to run the same game or collaboration app across devices on different platforms.

"The Aware program has broad vendor support and momentum and is important to this industry, which is a sign that things will happen quickly," Davis-Felner said. There are 658 members of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

Aware has to be built into an app to work, but it could be used in Webex or another collaboration app to benefit workers, she said.

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