The Commercial Market

IEEE Standard Extends Wireless Communications to Inexpensive Applications

A new standard from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) opens the world of wireless communications to inexpensive applications, from sensors and switches for industrial and residential use to smart tags and badges, interactive toys, inventory tracking and much more. The standard, IEEE 802.15.4,™ provides for low data rate connectivity among relatively simple devices that consume minimal power and typically connect at distances of 10 m (30 feet) or less.

IEEE 802.15.4, "Wireless Medium Access Control (MAC) and Physical Layer (PHY) Specifications for Low Rate Personal Area Networks (LR-WPANs)," addresses fixed, portable and moving devices that operate at data rates of 10 to 50 kbps. It allows devices to form short range ad-hoc networks within which they can interact directly.

"This is an enabling standard," says Pat Kinney, chair of IEEE 802.15 Task Group 4. "It builds a framework so existing low end wired devices can participate in wireless networks and also creates a path for many new applications. The potential uses have several things in common. They all involve relatively simple, low speed wireless links that need so little power that a set of AA batteries might last three to five years or even longer. We believe a host of new applications will be based on the standard. These might include motion sensors that control lights or alarms, wall switches that can be moved at will, meter reader devices that work from outside a house, game controllers for interactive toys, tire pressure monitors in cars, passive infrared sensors for building automation systems and asset and inventory tracking devices for use in retail stock rooms and warehouses."

According to Jose A. Gutierrez, chief technical editor of the standard, IEEE 802.15.4 is based on a vision of a new wireless niche for communication among things. "It is the first wireless scheme to allow simple sensor and actuator devices to share a single standardized wireless platform. The IEEE 802.15.4 specification complements the IEEE 802 set of wireless standards to enable sensor-rich environments. It accommodates lower end applications by trading off higher speed and performance for architectures that benefit from low power consumption and cost."

Wireless links under IEEE 802.15.4 can operate in three unlicensed frequency bands. These accommodate data rates of 20 kb/s in the 858 MHz band, 49 kb/s in the 902 to 928 MHz band and 250 kb/s in the 2.4 GHz band. When lines of communication exceed 30 feet, the standard allows for the creation of self-configuring, multi-hop network topologies. It also provides features that allow devices operating under the standard to coexist with other wireless devices, such as those that comply with 802.11,™ or Wi-Fi® and IEEE 802.15.1™ or Bluetooth.™ IEEE 802.15.4 was sponsored by the IEEE Computer Society, LAN/MAN Standard Committee.

Automotive Industry Drives the RFID Market

Despite all the recent hype and excitement surrounding the introduction of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in retail markets, the automotive industry will spend nearly thirty times more on the technology this year. Representing about half of the total RFID market, the auto industry is poised to spend about $600 M on the technology, according to a recent study prepared for the technology market research firm ABI. Key applications of RFID technology in vehicles include immobilizers, automatic vehicle identification, tire tracking and passive entry systems. "While the technology has made its way into millions of production vehicles each year, growth potential also exists in the automotive supply chain," states Edward Rerisi, ABI's director of research. He points to full-scale deployments where suppliers identify their components with an RFID tag prior to shipment to the automotive assembly line. From this point, the OEM can track not only the shipment but also the inventory status of the component after it has been received. "It is a one-tag-fits-all solution, enabling the OEM to track shipments and work-in-process," continues Rerisi. "The same benefits that this technology can bring to the retail supply chain are being realized - and proven - in the automotive supply chain."

ABI's most recent study on the RFID market, "RFID: Emerging Applications Driving R&D Investments and End-user Demand," reveals that the automotive applications represent 46 percent of the total market today. While this share declines to 28 percent of the total market by 2008, the automotive segment still shows positive growth in the market, as other segments begin to represent more significant portions of the market.

Consumer Telematics Must Return to Its Roots

The telematics industry must refocus its attention toward delivering vehicle-specific services if there is any hope of overcoming its current lull. With automakers facing daunting and unprecedented challenges in today's market place, there is less room for error when launching a new telematics initiative, according to the findings of a new research study from ABI. "When telematics was first conceptualized, OEM had grandiose visions of sophisticated, cutting-edge vehicle-centric services that provided intrinsic values to customers and OEMs alike," stated Frank Viquez, ABI director of automotive electronics and report author. "For the most part, players lost sight of this and mistakenly went on to push infotainment-type services during what was then the height of the dot-com age." The result was a slew of failed telematics ventures, which has sent most OEMs back to the drawing board or placed their telematics projects on hold. Subsequently, the industry stuck to what initially worked, which was safety and security services such as automatic collision notification (ACN). But such applications may not be compelling enough to sustain customers in the long run. According to the report, the total global telematics market will climb to over $14 B in 2008 from over $2 B in 2002. In order to achieve this growth, the study advises that the current approach to telematics must be eradicated and replaced with differing strategies among various vehicle platforms and customer segments. Customers must also be afforded the opportunity to pick from the various, lower cost vehicle-specific applications to find those that best suit their needs.

IEEE Approves Amendments to Local Area Network Standards

The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Standards Association (IEEE-SA) has approved amendments to two networking standards. One, IEEE 802.11f, sets specifications so access point devices from different vendors in IEEE 802.11 wireless local area networks (WLAN) can interoperate. The other, IEEE 802.16/conformance01, allows end users to evaluate how well a product designed for IEEE 802.16 wireless municipal area networks (WMAN) conform to the standard. IEEE 802.11f, "Recommended Practices for Multi-vendor Access Point Interoperability via Inter-access Point Protocol Across Distribution System Supporting IEEE 802.11 Operations," adds definitions for access points and distribution systems absent from the IEEE 802.11 standard. The lack of such definitions in the base standard allowed for flexible distribution system and access point design, but access point devices having different approaches often could not interoperate across a distribution system. This has impeded the growth of the WLAN market. IEEE 802.11f corrects this by specifying the information exchange needed between access points so distribution systems with different access points can work together.

IEEE 802.16/conformance01, "Protocol Implementation Conformance Statement (PICS) Proforma for 10-66 GHz Wireless MAN-SC Air Interface," contains a document to be filled out by product suppliers who claim to implement the standard. In it, suppliers can state what capabilities and options they implemented in a product and if limitations exist that might prevent interworking. This conformance statement allows end users to evaluate how well a product meets their requirements.