For designers of wireless connectivity enabled products, there are so many different technologies that it can sometimes look like a complex maze to navigate. But there’s never just one technology that fits the need, as many products have to address co-existence of multiple connectivity technologies for them to work effectively in a given environment.
“Cutting the complexity of wireless connectivity” was the topic of a recent panel at the NXP Connects conference, where we moderated a panel discussion between Google, HID Global, Samsung and NXP. From Bluetooth to Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, as well as the emergence of ultra-wideband (UWB) technology, we asked the panel “How do you determine which technologies to work with? How do you develop wireless products and solutions that exploit the best of multiple protocols, and ensure co-existence?”
It’s a big question, especially as you have many technologies to contend with, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, NFC, ZigBee, GNSS, LTE CAT-M1, NB-IoT, LoRa, SigFox. According to a recent report from ResearchandMarkets, the global wireless connectivity market covering these technologies is estimated to grow from US$ 69.0 billion in 2020 to US$ 141.1 billion by 2025, at a CAGR of 15.4%.
The major factors driving this industry growth are increased demand for wireless sensor networks in the development of smart infrastructure, a significant increase in the internet penetration rate, growth in adoption of the internet of things (IoT), increasing trends like work from home and virtual learning pertaining to the Covid-19 pandemic, and increased demand for low-power wide-area (LPWA) networks in IoT applications. High power consumption by wireless sensors, terminals and connected devices, and lack of uniform communication standards act as restraints for the wireless connectivity market.
According to the report, building automation end-use has the second-largest share of the wireless connectivity market in 2020, as a result of increasing demand for energy-efficient solutions, enhanced security, and constant need for improving living standards. Building automation, which started with wired technology, has now entered the era of wireless technology with technologies such as ZigBee, Z-wave, EnOcean, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth Smart. Growing awareness of energy conservation, stringent legislation and building directives, promotion of numerous smart grid technologies, and availability of a number of open protocols are further driving growth in this segment.
LPWAN enabled chipsets projected to be fastest growing
Low-power wide-area networks use both licensed and unlicensed spectrums. SigFox and LoRa are the most widely used LPWAN technologies in an unlicensed spectrum, while NB-IoT and LTE Cat-M1 are the two most widely used technologies in a licensed spectrum. The extremely low power consumption and the ability of non-line-of-sight communication make LPWAN technologies ideal for industrial IoT applications.
LoRa technology is developed and promoted by the LoRa Alliance. The alliance is an open, non-profit association that was initiated by various companies to standardize LPWAN technologies. The founding members of the LoRa Alliance include Actility (France), Cisco (US), IBM (US), Semtech (US), and other leading telecom operators. LoRa is a chirp-based, spread-spectrum technology that uses a wider bandwidth and takes a broader spectrum compared to SigFox. Thus, it is more suitable for applications that demand higher bandwidths.
Wi-Fi enabled chipsets lead market volume in 2020
Wi-Fi has remained one of the most dominant wireless connectivity technologies in consumer electronics and enterprise applications. The demand for Wi-Fi-enabled connected home devices such as video doorbells, thermostats, lighting solutions, smart TVs, refrigerators, washing machines, and music systems is increasing. The changing lifestyles (connected living) of consumers is increasing the need to stay connected everywhere and all the time. The use of Wi-Fi in consumer electronics has enabled users to control the devices. Wi-Fi has revolutionized the way in which the user interacts with these devices. All these factors are supporting the growth of the market for chipsets based on Wi-Fi technology.
The increase in the adoption of smartphones in the middle-class population in emerging economies, such as India, Indonesia, and other Southeast Asian countries, is boosting the growth of the market for connected devices based on Wi-Fi technology.
How to cut the complexity of wireless connectivity
As mentioned earlier in this article, this was the question posed to the panel at NXP Connects. The panelists were:
- Boon Loong Ng, research director at Samsung Research America’s standards and mobility innovation lab
- Sanjay Noronha, product lead for wireless and networking for Google Nest’s Wi-Fi team
- Ramesh Songukrishnasamy, senior vice president and CTO at HID Global
- Rafael Sotomayor, executive vice president and general manager for security and connectivity at NXP
During the panel, we asked for their insights on some of the decision-making needed, use cases and trends or what they think is really hot right now.
Boon Loong Ng commented, “We believe UWB has immense potential, because of its ability to provide spatial awareness and directional sensing capabilities to smart devices. Of course, there are quite a number of wireless connectivity technologies on the phone, because they complement each other based on the applications and use cases.”
“A technology can be particularly suited for a certain function. But it is very common now for multiple technologies working in conjunction to bring the best user experience. For example, Bluetooth is suitable for supporting always-on device discovery due to its low power consumption. After discovery, UWB’s spatial sensing with more accurate range and directional finding can kick in. Wi-Fi and 5G will continue to play the role of enabling high throughput applications.”
“With regards to our long-term vision, enabling UWB for device-to-device applications like what we have introduced for Nearby Share and SmartThings Find are only the beginning. We expect to see more and more use cases and applications that we could only imagine in the past actually becoming realities with UWB.”
Ramesh Songukrishnasamy said, “With a broad portfolio of products and solutions in HID, through which we power trusted identities of the world’s people, places, and things, there are many new technologies that we are quite excited about. If I have to pick one that is of more relevant for this forum, I would pick Ultra-Wideband, UWB. UWB enables higher levels of accuracy in positioning capabilities along with increased data security compared to other RF technologies. UWB is also immune to RF interference, so it functions in high traffic settings. These capabilities will enable seamless user experience in a variety of use cases like hands-free access control in your workplace, hospitals, hotels, and homes.”
Because of its fine ranging capability, we believe it will enable many new location-based services and device-to-device IoT applications both in consumer products and industrial setup. As ASSA ABLOY and HID Global are the global leaders in secure access and identity solution, we are quite excited about the potential of UWB technology in managing access to physical and digital places, things, and identities.”
Sanjay Noronha added a different perspective, especially in the context of the smart home. He said, “It’s interesting people talk about the ‘smart home’. We prefer to think of our mission as how can we help users, and how can the home be helpful to them. We’re trying to deliver a strong portfolio of devices and services towards these goals of creating a helpful home. To do that we want to get technologies to work better together.”
“Of course, we have to address the fundamentals. You must start with a whole home robust Wi-Fi network. That’s realizable through a really simple mesh system these days. Then you have to look at low power technologies like 15.4, BLE, because this awareness comes from sensors and other battery-operated devices where power consumption is critical, and we know we can’t deliver that through Wi-Fi.”
“Once we tie all these things together, the experiences are delivered by the software that tie all these technologies together. Our point of view is if we do our job right, users should not even have to think about what the technology is. They should just be delighted by how easy it was to set up, how convenient it was to interact with the home and get the information that they need. This information should be delivered exactly when it needs to be, and where it needs to be.”
“At Google, we start with the user journey: what is it the users are trying to do, what is it they are trying to understand about their home, and what can their home do for them. And then we develop the architectures, the layers and the technologies which we work with our partners such as NXP to pull these things together. When we see that our technology doesn’t yet exist, then we try to invent it or adopt it. We can see evidence of this through our ecosystem of partners.”
Meanwhile, Rafael Sotomayor, said, “In today’s home it is not surprising to see 20 or more connected devices, and we know this number will grow exponentially in the next few years. I’m talking about things like door locks, lights, kitchen appliances. And if you go into industrial, that list is even longer. Each of them has different requirements, cost points, form factors, and so on. There’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all, in terms of technology. And there’s unlikely to be a winner takes all scenario. It is a fragmented market, and very likely will remain fragmented.”
“In order to meet the challenge, a technology vendor like us must offer a comprehensive portfolio of connectivity technology options. We must simplify software – software is key. These are open ecosystems, companies’ products must interact with one another. So, minimizing the software burden through good SDK’s, reference applications, pre-integration is fundamental.”
“The same goes for simplifying hardware complexity. To support multiple technologies, multiple antennas, different power profiles, different PCB footprint requirements, we have to deliver co-existence techniques that allow various technologies to operate seamlessly, reliably, predictably. Then we have to remember that some of these companies are not big, the companies addressing IoT and industrial, so we must offer support flexibility, we must offer technology accessibility. So it helps a great deal to be able to rely on technology suppliers like NXP that are able to address these challenges with end-to-end solutions.”