By Niclas Norlén – LumenRadio
More and more things are getting connected wirelessly and it’s getting noisy out there. Mobile phones, WiFi, Bluetooth, building controls, to mention a few. And on top of that there is a new “kid on the block” … – Internet of Things. Wireless connectivity is already a challenge and still we are just at the very beginning of the Internet of Things era. We will soon realize that the frequency spectrum which we all take for granted will become one of our most precious natural resources. If we don’t start using it more efficiently we will end up in a communication breakdown.
So, can we do something about it? Can we solve it?
Sure we can!
We need to start treating the frequency spectrum with respect, we need to stop competing and start coexisting.
First of all, only use frequencies that are unoccupied, sounds easy right? Well for LumenRadio this is core, the technology behind it was quite of a challenge because we realized that this needs to happen dynamically. The utilization of the frequency spectrum is indeed very dynamic and it would be impossible to adapt to it manually. You can’t just tune your system to a frequency channel and wish for good luck that nothing will change. Unfortunately, a frequency channel might be in use by a Bluetooth thing at one millisecond and the next it might be available again but the next millisecond occupied again.
Secondly, only send data that adds value using streamlined data transferring formats, easy as that!
We have witnessed that frequency coexistence is becoming crucial in successful IoT deployments. If the radio environments changes, then you need to adapt. If there are patterns in the surrounding communication, then you must predict. If other networks are taken out of service, then reclaim the frequency space. Frequency coexistence works in both direction. It doesn´t cause interference and your communication doesn´t get interfered.
At LumenRadio we call this technology Cognitive Coexistence and it always strive to use unoccupied frequencies for best performance for every surrounding wireless network and its own communication. The Cognitive Coexistence technology has been successfully deployed in the most critical environments. We have used it in a wide range of applications like controlling lights at major live music events, numerous prestigious Hollywood movies, indoor climate control and much more. All these businesses have one thing in common, business critical controls, i.e. a communication breakdown means no business, or in worst case, no more business at all. Exactly that is the deal with major Hollywood productions. Wireless light controls or special effects not happening as it should could mean that a multimillion dollar scene goes down the drain… And that means no more business for the technology provider.
At major live events the challenge is that you can have tens of thousands of people in the audience, all of them using their smartphones periodically. And everyone that has been at a major live show knows how hard it is to do that update on social media or even make a call or send a text. Guess what? The smartphones were fighting for available frequencies while the Cognitive Coexistence enabled wireless light controls worked flawlessly at the same event. It just coexisted while other technologies were fighting. And at live events it must work. Everyone is probably familiar with the expression “the show must go on” and yes it must go on, failure is not an option here.
But even for applications not as glamorous as Hollywood movies such as indoor climate controls for example Cognitive Coexistence has been proven essential. When the Swedish indoor climate control company Swegon decided to go 100% wireless, frequency coexistence was a no-brainer, and why is that?
Wireless congestions with frequent communications breakdowns is becoming a reality in our modern residential and commercial buildings. The challenge here with traditional technology with no coexistence is that communications might be working perfectly fine at commissioning and even some time afterwards. The challenge comes when all WiFi networks are fired up, Bluetooth peripherals is flooding the building and other wireless building control systems are put into commission. Worst case your system was commissioned on a frequency that was fine and dandy but later turns up to be the most used one. The support burden would be overwhelming if not even impossible, worst case technicians constantly having to recommission the system to a new frequency.
The system must automatically make frequency tuning and adaptions, at all times, sometimes even few millisecond, and this is a must for any modern wireless IoT application.
Almost equally important to frequency coexistence is to design your wireless IoT system in such a way that only value creating data is being sent. That is the less the data you send the less the time on air you need, i.e. less use of frequencies and thus better frequency coexistence.
But what is value creating data?
You can see it from two viewpoints. One is simply to send data that is useful. For Swegon, the exact position of a damper wouldn’t be of any value in their cloud platform neither for them or their customers. Damper position data is only of interest on a local level in the system. And that is how the system is built, room control and regulation is done on a local level to guarantee a perfect indoor climate. Smart use of fog and edge computing will in this sense be of great value from a coexistence perspective without jeopardizing any customer value. Every node in the system has processing power to refine data and send only when necessary. Temperature sensor for example only need to send the temperature when it has changed.
The other viewpoint would be to make use of a streamlined data transferring format. For example, a temperature or a presence sensor does typically only need to send as little as one or two bytes of data. Every extra data added for transferring that small amount can easily turn into frequency waste. There are numerous of rather complex formats that could end up in just a few percent of value creating data being sent, the rest only overhead. In a large system having thousands of nodes, which is a reality today, an ineffective transferring format could in itself end up in a communication breakdown. The system will start interfering with itself as every node are sending tens of header bytes for every single byte of data. So, choose carefully when the data transferring format is chosen.
To conclude, frequency spectrum is a limited natural resource and the usable spectrums for IoT are rapidly being depleted. Mainly because we use the spectrum quite inefficiently today and we must start to treat the frequency spectrum with respect. Utilizing frequency coexistence and think twice on how we package and what data we send is essential for future proofing the revenue streams from your IoT offer.
Niclas Norlén gave a TEDx talk about the Frequency Spectrum called “The network is busy – please try again later”. Don´t miss it!
Expected growth of the number of connected devices.