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Wi-Fi Alliance ushers in new era of intrusive apps

First 'Wi-Fi Aware' chips pass certification

A lack of connectivity options in devices like smartphones is clearly what stops location-based advertising from being the saviour of physical retailing.

That, or something like it, seems to be behind the Wi-Fi Alliance's “Wi-Fi Aware” project, announced at CES in January and now launching its product certification program.

Today, a phone will likely offer multiple methods of mobile connectivity and Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (with Bluetooth LE for beaconing) and NFC.

But something was clearly missing, and the folks at the alliance reckon they've got it nailed: two phones in the same building need to talk to each other through either the mobile or Wi-Fi networks they're logged into.

Hence Wi-Fi Aware: “proximity-based service discovery among Wi-Fi devices”.

The alliance's blurb adds the completely giggle-worthy: “The technology in Wi-Fi Aware enables products to discover other devices, applications, and information nearby - before making a Wi-Fi connection”.

How do devices talk over Wi-Fi without making a Wi-Fi connection? Over Wi-Fi, of course: it's just devices like smartphones connecting to each other as peers rather than both being logged into an access point.

The first devices to get certification are:

  • Broadcom's BCM4358;
  • Intel's dual band Wireless-AC 7260;
  • Marvell's Avastar 88W8897 802.11ac low power Wi-Fi combo chip; and
  • Realtek's RTL8812AE 2x2 a/b/g/n/ac MiniCard.

Why bother?

Well, there's “social gaming” – letting your phone notice that someone nearby is playing the same game as you, and inviting them to a multiplayer game (somehow without copping abuse for distracting at that crucial moment and wrecking their play).

But it's the retail applications that really fire the fevered imaginations of the industry. After two decades of imagining that people yearn to receive advertisements from every shop, cafe and restaurant they walk past, location-based ads remain a disappointment.

Wi-Fi Aware means something like a tag on clothing could send info to the phone of someone browsing a store, even if there's no “network” available.

Also to file in the drawer marked “what could possibly go wrong?”: the alliance folk reckon app permissions will be sufficient to protect users. We'll leave that to El Reg's wise and reasoned commentards to deal with. ®

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