When we think of wireless it is natural to wonder “which one – cellular, Wi-Fi, BLE?” Our phones support everything but those are pricey devices. What if we wanted the same combo wireless option in a low-cost IoT device, maybe something that only need to send a small amount of data periodically? Logistics applications are a good example. NB-IoT is an ideal low-energy wireless protocol for this application, especially now we’re starting to see the beginnings of satellite support, promising world-wide coverage. Logistics also needs location support which can now be provided by GNSS, the superset of GPS including services like GLONASS and Galileo. OK, that’s not a wireless protocol, but it can be handled in the same unit that handles the baseband. Which then allows us to track our package at sea, in the air, wherever it may be.
Wi-Fi for positioning
But what happens when the package disappears inside a warehouse? There’s no cellular signal and the IoT device can’t see positioning satellites. Then it can be useful to have Wi-Fi support since there are almost certainly Wi-Fi access points around the warehouse. You could re-establish communication that way, though Wi-Fi is not especially low power. More importantly you can get a coarse sense of positioning – a radius around the access point with strongest reception.
Bluetooth for positioning and provisioning
Add to that Bluetooth, especially BLE which is low power. With Bluetooth mesh you can achieve significant range for communication, certainly across a large storage facility. You also have some interesting positioning options using the angle-of arrival and angle of departure features in the 5.1 standard and onwards. Whether this level of accuracy is necessary or not will depend very much on the application.
There’s another important benefit to Bluetooth – provisioning. NB-IoT is not a good way to transfer large amounts of data, the kind of data you may need to transfer when you’re first setting up a device or when you’re updating software. BLE is a much better way to handle those use-cases, providing suitable bandwidth at low power. Just bring your smartphone near the device and do the update.
Bluetooth sensor support in smart homes
Sensors for smart home applications are most likely to be designed with Bluetooth support. Smoke sensors, open windows, doors, that sort of thing. They’ll connect to a gateway which can connect to the cloud via NB-IoT. After all, these sensors don’t have a lot of data to transfer.
At this point you need support in your device for NB-IoT, BLE, Wi-Fi (because not all warehouses will have BLE) and GNSS. It has to be small, low cost and low power. Think about logistics tags; you want these to be vanishingly small and almost maintenance-free.
Combo wireless in IoT is happening
This is not an academic possibility. CEVA tells me they already have a customer doing almost exactly this, minus the BLE component. NB-IoT communication in the great outdoors, GNSS location positioning and approximate positioning indoors using Wi-Fi. All running on one core. The wireless guys (Paddy McWilliams, Franz Dugand and Tal Shalev) added that they’re now looking at incorporating BLE on the same core. Tal said that there’s no technical limitation here; they just hadn’t got around to this yet.
So you if you want it all, communication and positioning options, in one low profile, value-priced and low-energy, you can have most of that right now and should be able to have all of it pretty soon. You can learn more HERE.