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Wi-Fi Aware set to unlock the Internet of Things' full potential and we can't wait

The Internet of Things (opens in new tab) - or IoT if you will - is much more than just a buzzword. It's also much more than 'the next big thing'; it could be fundamental to the future of technology and how we interact with it. When we talk about the Internet of Things (opens in new tab), we tend to do so in reference to the home and business --but there is more to it than that.

There's a lot to consider when it comes to working with data gathered by various sensors built into smart devices, and the most recent game-changer has been unveiled by the Wi-Fi Alliance. Wi-Fi Aware certification has just been opened up with a view to enabling the creation of smart devices that can wirelessly exchange data directly, react to location, and discover other devices. This, rather than a connected fridge or oven, is what is exciting about the Internet of Things.

The difference with Wi-Fi Aware (opens in new tab) is that data can be transferred without the need for a separate wireless network. There's no need to have a router sitting there waiting to intercept one device's signal and pass it to another --the two devices can communicate directly without the need to set anything up. It's something that is set for inclusion in mobile phones, but there are plenty of other applications.

While Wi-Fi Aware devices are concerned with location, this is not in terms longitude and latitude. It is probably more accurate to say that Wi-Fi Aware is about proximity rather than location --it's not where a device is specifically that's important, but where it is in relation to another device. Just how this technology is used will depend very much on the types of apps that are developed: apps will very much be at the heart of how things proceed.

Perhaps the most obvious use of Wi-Fi Aware is likely to be embraced by retailers. Rather than using loyalty cards, a Wi-Fi Aware enabled phone and app could notify you of e-vouchers you can spend as you walk through the door of the coffee shop. As there is no reliance on GPS, location detection can be more precise and power consumption is greatly reduced --essential for mobile devices.

It also allows for a highly personalised experience at very little cost. If you're heading to the airport, an app on your phone could not only tell you which desk you need to visit, but could keep your informed about how long you have to wait as you stand in line.

In many ways, Wi-Fi Aware is a development of Bluetooth. That said, this is entirely Wi-Fi-based and as such the range is much greater than Bluetooth. The Wi-Fi Alliance says:

Wi-Fi Aware devices go through a unique process of discovery and synchronisation, establishing a common 'heartbeat' that enables a very power efficient operation. Devices form clusters and exchange small messages about services available nearby, enabling immediate discovery. Once an interesting service has been discovered, an app can easily initiate a Wi-Fi connection for follow-up activity such as sharing photos or playing a multiplayer game.

There will almost certainly be integration with social networks, but Wi-Fi Aware will likely be integrated into smart devices in the home. There are already a lot of big names --Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom, to name but three --and it will be interesting to see the hardware that emerges in the coming months. The Internet of Things just got personal.

The Wi-Fi Alliance's video serves a good introduction to Wi-Fi Aware: