How the IEEE 802.15.4 standards are benefiting IoT deployments and smart cities in India

IEEE 802.15.4™ is a global standard for developers of smart city and Internet of Things (IoT) applications. In the past, developers, service providers and end users had the dilemma of interoperability for communication layer implementation. To address this issue and take advantage of IEEE 802.15.4, now they have a globally accepted option.

IEEE 802.15.4 was developed to enable low-data-rate applications that require years of battery life, low-complexity architectures to minimize cost and the ability to operate in unlicensed spectrum. Examples include smart utility grids, street light management, building automation, home control and residential security.

IEEE 802.15.4u™ is the first standard to support the 865-867 MHz band for India, with full compliance with the country’s wireless regulations. This addition benefits developers, service providers and end users because until now, the only way to use that band in India was with a proprietary implementation. As a result, they now have a wider choice of IEEE 802.15.4-based solutions providers to choose from, as well as greater independence of multi-vendor interoperability.

In addition, this will further accelerate the expansion and growth of the IEEE 802.15.4 ecosystem participation at a global level, including chipsets, modules and software to serve global markets. This compatibility creates additional opportunities for Indian IoT and smart city applications to leverage IEEE 802.15.4’s global ecosystem and marketplace momentum.

For example, IEEE 802.15.4u replicates IEEE 802.15.4g’s radio frequency (RF) characteristics into the new sub-GHz band defined for India. As a result, many existing RF modules can be used in this band with little or no modification. That makes it fast and cost-effective for IEEE 802.15.4g module vendors to develop IEEE 802.15.4u versions of their products for the India market. Low development costs also enable module vendors to price their solutions at a point that’s viable for a wide variety of IoT and smart city applications, including ones with tight budgets.  

Extending benefits such as low cost, power efficiency and high reliability to India

The IEEE 802.15.4u standard technically is an extension, which means it includes all of the benefits that have made IEEE 802.15.4-2015 a good fit for IoT and smart city applications in other parts of the world. One example is very low power consumption, which is critical for applications involving battery-powered devices designed to remain in service for a decade or longer. Long battery life reduces the cost of those applications because the service provider or end user doesn’t have to spend money to replace the batteries every few years. For instance, the IoT modules for automated meter reading (AMR) applications in gas, water or solar systems typically are used for at least a decade. IEEE 802.15.4u achieves power efficiency through a combination of innovative circuit design, signal propagation capabilities and a smaller memory footprint.

Like the original standard, IEEE 802.15.4u also features techniques to mitigate interference, which helps maximize reliability in environments where there’s a high density of devices using the same band. One example is carrier-sense multiple access with collision avoidance (CSMA/CA), where IEEE 802.15.4u devices listen to make sure a channel isn’t in use before transmitting. These kinds of “good neighbour” capabilities help ensure the high-performance, reliable communications necessary for mission-critical applications such as public safety sensors and home security.

Developers, service providers and end users need a heterogeneous, seamless, interoperable network when it comes to IoT and smart city applications, including Wi-Fi, cellular and powerline communications (PLC). IEEE 802.15.4u has several advantages that move it to the top of the list for India and the global market.

For example, the 865-867 MHz band strikes a perfect balance between long range and low power consumption. In both point-to-point and mesh configurations, this combination enables links of several miles/kilometres, thus minimizing the need for—and expense of—repeaters and other associated infrastructure to relay those signals to their final destination. Low infrastructure costs are critical for IoT and smart city applications, which are extremely cost-sensitive markets. As a result, the IEEE 802.15.4u standard could enable IoT and smart city applications in India that will not be financially viable with other wireless or wired technologies.

The 865-867 MHz band also is ideal for applications where there’s a lot of foliage, people and animals. By comparison, 2.4 GHz signals are much more susceptible to attenuation from the water in plants and bodies. This is another reason why IEEE 802.15.4u is a good choice for applications in both crowded cities and lush rural communities—in other words, just about anywhere that needs reliable, high performance connectivity.

Finally, another benefit of using a sub-GHz band is that it enables a more effective antenna aperture compared to higher frequencies. That’s one more reason why IEEE 802.15.4u is poised to become the standard of choice for IoT and smart city applications across India.

Chip and module vendors should download the IEEE 802.15.4u standard from the IEEE website so they can begin upgrading their solutions to take advantage of the newly developed standard. Also, the Bureau of Indian Standard, Govt. of India, along with other industry stakeholders are working on creating an ecosystem for interoperable solutions using this standard. 

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Benefiting From the IoT Opportunity: Three industry trends that will make your deployment in 2017 a better one

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“Instead of focusing on the things in IoT, the focus will shift on what the things produce – data.”

There is no doubt the IoT space is growing at an enormous rate, in fact the number of connected devices soared to a 30 percent growth in 2016 from the previous year, according to one Gartner report. 2017 will be a year we see IoT not only continue to grow, but also mature as an industry. If IoT has not reserved a space in every company’s priority list, it should. Gartner projects by 2020 more than half of major new business processes and systems will incorporate some element of the IoT. If you are one of those companies, here’s some maturity trends you’ll see unfold over the course of 2017, which will help make your deployment and implementation more frictionless than early adopters. We love early adopters, but like anyone who has ever ventured into new territory can tell you, be it the person who purchases the newest smartphone, or the company that downloads the newest operating system, or the pioneers of space exploration, IoT had a few bumps in the road.

One maturation trend the industry will see is the wrangling of the abundance of IoT data. Instead of focusing on the things in IoT, the focus will shift on what the things produce – data. One of the greatest benefits of connected devices is the amount of real-time data that is available. All the value is in the data, yet harnessing the power of the data is one of the greatest challenges.

Beyond harnessing, companies will streamline the flow of data into consumable and actionable information, to avoid death by data, a phenomenon where too much data becomes overwhelming and the receiver simply tunes out. The information is still valuable, but because consumption of information was not put into a proper work flow, it goes into junk folders, deleted or simply ignored. Finding from a McKinsey Global Institute study, revealed that IoT data being collected by companies is not being used, and furthermore the data that is being used is not being fully exploited as up to 90 percent of data is only viewed once or not at all.

Consider for a minute droves of real-time data flowing in at a rate of over 100 push notifications daily. Perhaps you’re in charge of a several data centers and whenever there is a blip in the power grid, your phone erupts with messages about a disruption in power supply, the building generating is on, building generation is running, generating is running at 75 percent fuel consumption, blip in the power line, street power is still off, still running on generator, fuel is at 72 percent consumption, and so forth. Now, take the same disruption in power scenario and instead of 100 push notifications you get a recap of the day where you can see power spikes and dips, length of an outage and fuel consumption. Same information, just architected in a more useful, impactful and actionable manner.

2017 will be the year of data harnessing and more intuitive and actionable flow of information which will help companies identify new revenue streams, streamline operational processes, and increase efficiencies.

Another trend, to which we are already seeing, but will cumulatively expand, is more connected devices, or what I like to call the democratization of IoT. Depending on the analyst firm you follow the number of connected devices forecasted for 2020 fluctuates from 10 billion to 100 billion. Time will tell the exact number, but there is one thing for certain, the number of connected devices is rising and will continue to rise at a rapid pace.

Traditionally, the benefits of IoT have been limited to a very select small group of participants – an elite few – primarily due to limitations of technology. Limitations such as cost, battery life, and complexity, left an overwhelming majority of devices excluded from having a voice in IoT. We are now entering a tipping point in IoT, where there is a broader democratization in IoT with advancement in technology.

Traditional 3G / 4G technology was not built for things, it was built for humans, and while it works well for its intended people use, it’s not cost efficient for hardware nor per device connectivity. In addition, it has a very strict limitation on device battery life. Things, especially things in the scale of thousands, need to be operable for years or even decades without attention to their battery. Recharging device batteries in this type of quantity just doesn’t scale.

Dedicated IoT connectivity networks such as SIGFOX’s Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) provides wide range communications at a low bit rate, thus enabling connected devices to operate cost efficiently and at an unprecedented battery life. LPWAN by nature is battery consumption conservative, instead of constantly signaling to the devices, a device simply “wakes up” to transmit a short message, and then goes back to sleep. This technology is enabling mass adoption of IoT because it is built for things.

Rounding out the top three trends of 2017 will be the emergence of strong ecosystem partnerships. For anyone who has tried to implement a trial, they will tell you IoT is a complex landscape with many layers in the stack. To get started in IoT one needs to gather the chip, the module, the connectivity solution, data storage, hosting, reporting, data visualizing, and workflow management, which can grind on even the most seasoned of technology implementation experts.

In the case of IoT, the sum is not greater than its parts, rather the parts are equally important as the entire sum. Partnerships between hardware, software, and service providers stack are going to offer a complete IoT solution. Ideally, the partnership will be agnostic, like SIGFOX’s ecosystem partners, so customers will not be bound to one chip provider or one cloud platform.

Suppliers, no matter where they are in the stack, will help buyers connect the IoT dots, and not simply sell one solution in a vacuum. By doing so, the entire industry will help speed up the adoption, and more importantly the implementation of IoT.

As the IoT industry matures there will be more lesson it learns, but like the technology trailblazers before us who envisioned technology not for the sake of gadgetry, but the sake of making a tangible difference, the trail has bumps and will even leave a few bruises. There are lessons learned along the path that make the climb easier. The data, technology built for devices, and strong ecosystems were valuable lessons IoT learned this year and will only be stronger at these in 2017. There will be more lessons to learn in the year ahead. You don’t go through a 30 percent year over year increase without learning a few things.

Where things come alive.