The Future of WiFi Sensing: A Look at the Upcoming IEEE 802.11bf Standard

The world of WiFi is about to change, thanks to the development of a new technology called WiFi Sensing. This technology allows WiFi-enabled devices to detect and monitor activities in their surroundings, opening up a wide range of possibilities that stretch our current understanding of what WiFi can do. WiFi Sensing can be leveraged for home automation/security, sleep tracking, fall detection, energy management, detection of children left alone inside a car, and much more. 

To make sure this technology is compatible with widely used devices and accessible to all, IEEE formed a group of experts to develop a new standard called IEEE 802.11bf, under the IEEE 802.11 umbrella of WiFi. Let’s dive into what this standard means and how it will shape the future of WiFi Sensing.

What is the IEEE 802.11bf standard? 

The IEEE 802.11bf standard will make sure WiFi Sensing works seamlessly in wireless local area network (WLAN) with existing and future WiFi devices. To achieve this, the standard will outline technical specifications for both the MAC (Media Access Control) and PHY (Physical) layers of WiFi technology. With the standard in place, WiFi Sensing technology will work with specific frequency bands, allowing devices to sense even the tiniest changes in their environment.

Who’s in charge of setting the standard?

A group of IEEE 802.11 industry leaders and researchers have been working together to create this standard. Among them, Origin AI experts have been key members in driving the standard forward, making important technical contributions from the beginning of the project. 

To shape the development of the IEEE standards, IEEE members formed different groups over time, including the WLAN Sensing Technical Interest Group, the WLAN Sensing Study Group, the WLAN Sensing Task Group, and ultimately the 802.11bf Task Group. Their goal is to develop a set of rules and guidelines for establishing and managing sensing sessions and proxy sensing sessions in the WLAN to generate and report suitable sensing measurements extracted from sounding signals to ensure WiFi sensing works consistently across different WiFi devices and manufacturers.

When will this new WiFi standard be set?

The 802.11bf Task Group has been hard at work since 2019, and they’ve made great progress. They have release a series of drafts in these years, with the final standard expected by September 2024.

What comes next?

Once the IEEE 802.11bf standard is complete, WiFi sensing will be easier to implement across a wide range of devices. Enabled by the wide availability of sensing measurements provided by 802.11bf and a plethora of AI technologies, new and innovative applications will be created, integrating WiFi Sensing in ways even the experts can’t yet imagine.

The development of the IEEE 802.11bf standard marks an exciting turning point in the world of WiFi. As WiFi Sensing, or “Wireless AI”, technology becomes more standardized and accessible, we can expect to see our daily lives enhanced by a whole new range of wireless AI-enabled applications. From improving home security to monitoring our health to making our buildings more energy efficient, the future of WiFi Sensing is full of endless potential.

Watch Dr. Ray Liu’s talk at the NSF-IEEE Workshop Wireless AI in March 2023 on the topic of “The New Sixth Sense to Decipher the World” and how WiFi Sensing will revolutionize our lives.

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