Internet of Things: big numbers, many opportunities

Berger Pierre-DamienBy Pierre-Damien Berger, VP Business Development & Communication; CEA-Leti

Whatever forecast one uses for the future of the Internet of Things in terms of connected objects or business opportunities, the IoT will be big. Citing industry sources during of “The Internet of Things: from sensors to zero power,” the recent LetiDays conference in Grenoble, France, speakers offered projections venturing up to 50 billion connected objects by 2020.

Jacques Husser, COO of SIGFOX, said the IoT is the next major technological revolution, and that connecting billions or trillions of devices and enabling them to communicate with each other and will require more than high bandwidth. While increasing bandwidth is a key focus for multi-media and voice data network operators, for IoT companies reducing energy consumption and costs are key to handling the continuous volume of small messages from all those things.

SIGFOX, whose network is dedicated to the IoT, provides power-efficient, two-way wireless connectivity for IoT and machine-to-machine communications. Husser said the company’s technology is compatible with existing chipsets from vendors such as Texas Instruments, STMicroelectronics, Silicon Labs, Atmel, NXP and Semtech. Husser said that while SIGFOX’s technology complements 2G, 3G and 4G systems, it does not require a SIM card. Devices’ IP addresses are established during manufacturing.

The company, which has networks operating or in rollout with partners in several countries and major cities, is enabling applications for building and vehicle security, indoor climate monitoring, pet tracking, smart-city apps for parking and lighting management, asset management including billboard monitoring, water utility metering, and health-care apps like fall detection, distress signaling and medicine dispensing. Many more are expected.

Leti’s RF design and antenna expertise were used to help connect SIGFOX’s cellular networks. In addition, Leti is working with other startups and SMEs to develop and connect smart functions in a variety of products that will use the IoT to communicate. Primo1D was spun out of Leti in 2013 to produce E-Thread®, an innovative microelectronic packaging technology that embeds LEDs, RFIDs or sensors in fabric and materials for integration in textiles and plastics using standard production tools.

Leti startup BeSpoon recently launched SpoonPhone, a smartphone equipped with the capability to locate tagged items within a few centimeters’ accuracy. The capability is enabled by an impulse radio ultra-wideband (IR-UWB) integrated circuit developed by Leti and BeSpoon. Leti and Cityzen Sciences, the award-winning designer and developer of smart-sensing products, have begun a project to take the company’s technology to the next level by integrating micro-sensors in textiles during the weaving stage.

Leti and CORIMA, a leading supplier of carbon-composite wheels and frames for track and road-racing cyclists, are developing an integrated sensor system to measure the power output of riders as they pedal.

Citing research by Morgan Stanley Research, Leti’s telecommunications department head Dominique Noguet noted that worldwide shipments of smartphones and tablets exceeded shipments of desktop and notebook PCs for the first time in 2011. This signaled that the web has gone mobile, a fact underscored by a Cisco forecast that M2M mobile data traffic will increase 24x from 24 petabytes per month in 2012 to 563 petabytes in 2017.

Noguet said the IoT growth will present scaling challenges and require new communication protocols for sporadic, asynchronous, decentralized, low-power traffic. In addition to harvesting, or scavenging, energy to assure continuous connectivity, there will be demand for technologies that enable spectrum scavenging in unlicensed spectra, for example, and that use new bands, such as millimeter wave, white spaces and even light.

Leti has numerous ways to support development of the IoT, ranging from embedding antennas in specific materials through characterization and design, to implementing full-blown custom radio technologies. The inclusion of UHF RFID tags for the tire industry was cited as a first example where read/write range performances were a challenge. Leti’s ultra-wideband localization technology is another example where competence in signal processing, real-time design, antenna technology and mixed RF/digital ASIC design was combined to provide a complete solution where no off-the-shelf approach was available.

Noguet also noted potential threats to IoT security, and cited Leti’s involvement in the Santander, Spain, smart city project, which includes experimental advanced research on IoT technologies. Leti and CEA-List were in charge of securing access to the SmartSantander infrastructure and communications over a wireless sensor network. This included ensuring the security of the transactions and protecting users’ privacy.

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