Traditional wireless technologies like WiFi, Bluetooth and other 2.4GHz ISM bands are being pushed to their limits by the increased number of users requiring higher performance. The demand for broadband access is also driving operators to increase cell sizes in order to ensure wider coverage.
Below is a list of three technologies that can be replaced by UWB and its future successors.
Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances (using short-wavelength UHF radio waves in the ISM band from 2.4 to 2.485 GHz) from fixed and mobile devices, and building personal area networks (PANs). It was originally conceived as a wireless alternative to RS-232 data cables.
It has also been used in telecommunication systems for terminating the subscriber loop on ISDN circuits.
The Bluetooth Implementers Forum, which oversees development of the specification, describes it as “a wireless networking protocol that provides simple secure connectivity between devices such as keyboards, computers, printers, cell phones and personal digital assistants.” The logo is intended to depict the Bluetooth symbol, a runic letter ‘B’ that stands for “Bearer”.
The Bluetooth standard is licensed by technology companies which compete to produce implementations of varying functionality and cost. Due in part to these issues, an effort has been initiated by major industry players such as Ericsson (the originators of BAP) and Nokia (which is buying into Motorola’s initiation of GAAN). This effort was originally intended to merge the competing standards into a single specification under the name “Wibree”, but it has since been dropped.
Bluetooth operates at frequencies between 2402 and 2480 MHz, or 2400 and 2483.5 MHz including guard bands 2 MHz wide at the bottom end and 3.5 MHz wide at the top end of each band, with an effective radiated range of 10 m (32.81 in). This is roughly four times as far as infrared (IR) technology can transmit signals before audio quality degrades, but about half as far as standard Wi-Fi devices transmit data and comparable to IR when taking attenuation due to walls into account. Bluetooth uses the IEEE 802 protocol family so all Bluetooth-compliant devices are Wi-Fi (802.11b) compatible. Bluetooth is also completely interoperable with the IrDA protocol family, using infrared for short range communications between mobile devices and base stations; however, it can be used without a cable connection due to its use of radio transmission for some applications.
Ultra wideband is quickly displacing the traditional Bluetooth as the primary technology used for wireless connectivity between mobile and fixed devices.
ZigBee is an IEEE 802 standard for a suite of high-level communication protocols used to create personal area networks built from small, low power digital radios operating in the sub-1 GHz frequency band (868/915 MHz in Europe). It uses much less power than WiFi or Bluetooth technologies and can operate battery powered electronic devices lasting years instead of just hours as is the case with WiFi and Bluetooth. ZigBee’s most significant application has been in home automation, but it can also be used for wireless sensors, lighting control, smart electricity metering, and to interconnect low power technologies such as medical implant devices or sensors. Other applications include security systems, industrial controls and building automation system networking.
ZigBee was originally intended to build an alternative protocol stack to those that were being proposed at the time (Thread, 6LoWPAN/IPv6-based stacks), firstly for 802.15 WPANs using IEEE 802.15.1 (Bluetooth) PHY layer plus a new MAC layer based on GFSK modulation and CSMA/CA with Manchester coding; when these efforts merged, the protocol stack was transferred to the new IEEE 802.15.4e task group for WPANs using IEEE 802.15.4 MAC layer plus a new PHY layer based on GFSK modulation and CSMA/CA with Manchester coding (ZigBee). There are several ZigBee protocols specified for various applications. The highest level is called “ZIGBEE” which is a main class that contains many profiles called “Service Profiles”.
So how is ultra wideband superior to ZigBee? ZigBee uses sub-1GHz bandwidth for short range communications, but it depends on line of sight transmissions and can transmit at data rates up to 250kbps. Ultra wideband is able to send 100x more data than Zigbee over a greater range without needing line of sight, so Zigbee is just another technology that is slowly becoming outdated in the light of UWB.
LPWAN – LoRa
LoRa has been described as a combination of Bluetooth and ZigBee, but with longer range and less bandwidth . In LoRa networks, gateways take the messages transmitted by sensor nodes at 900 MHz and convert them to 433 MHz signals sent through wired powerline or Ethernet cable that is connected to the Internet. Nodes can be battery powered using inexpensive CMOS batteries for many years. A typical “in-network” gateway uses 10 times more energy than a node so it needs its own independent source of power like solar panels . The RF transceiver chips typically have < 1 mW transmit output power which enables devices to run for years on small coin cell type batteries. Using a technique called “Airtime Fairness” the LoRaWAN protocol stack ensures that all devices get an equal share of available bandwidth, making it possible for sensor nodes to send data very infrequently. In addition, nodes can be configured to send messages at time intervals as short as one second or as long as several months without using any more energy than if they were sending every few hours or days. For example, temperature sensors can report their values every minute (24*60=1440 samples/day) and sleep most of the time unless there is a significant change which would trigger them to wake up and report 1000 new samples per day (1440-140)/1000=6 times per year; many other applications like asset tracking and supply chain monitoring can use similar duty cycles.
LoRaWAN works in both licensed and unlicensed frequencies from 865 MHz to 928 MHz, it uses spread-spectrum radio technology for long range communication; the LoRa Alliance estimates a maximum reliable range of 4–20 miles (7–30 km) depending on terrain, infrastructure, antennae and power used .
While most LPWANs focus on connecting devices used indoors or in buildings like factories & warehouses, LoRa is focused exclusively on outdoor applications that need longer battery life than less demanding ones such as asset tracking. It has been endorsed by several carriers and other organizations who are using it to link sensors and actuators across continents.
LoRa has a much smaller range than UWB because its frequencies overlap with TV broadcast bands and its data rate is much lower. Also, LoRa works only with gateways and there are a lot of other protocols to choose from like Bluetooth 4.0 + BLE, Zigbee 3.0, Thread or 6LoWPAN which means it has a much smaller market share than telco data lines; however, it is far more suitable for long range applications than UWB.
UWB has many advantages over the above-mentioned technologies like low power, high security, bi-directional communication, etc., which make it suitable for various applications. However, the success of any technology depends on how quickly it is adopted by the market and how aggressively its promoters are in marketing their brand. It is not enough to develop a technology that will last for a long time, or even change the world, as many technologies like these are introduced every day. If UWB does not do all that it can to be adopted by the public and supported by third-party companies who are willing to build products around it, then its best days will remain behind it.
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