It is estimated that by the year 2025, 75 billion Internet of Things (IoT) devices will be deployed, powering new applications into all aspects of our lives, from intelligent homes and security cameras to smart cities and self-driving vehicles. With the explosion of IoT, embedded designers are focusing their efforts on system energy usage, more than ever.
While there are high hopes for future IoT market, challenges pertaining to connectivity. This is because WiFi and cellular bands are already congested, and cannot support additional wireless devices. In addition, most of the IoT sensors are low-power devices, which transmit at rates much lower than channel capacity, and since these devices use omnidirectional antennae, they are very inefficient in their use of shared spectrum.
How mmWave Spectrum Can Overcome The Issue Of Scaling IoT
The Millimetre-wave (mmWave) frequency bands have the potential to address IoT scaling problem by offering multi-GHz of unlicensed bandwidth, 200x more than the bandwidth allocated to today’s WiFi and cellular networks. Spectrum availability at such high frequencies promises to enable higher network throughput than existing wireless networks. Recent studies have explored this technology in enabling high throughput wireless links for emerging applications, including 5G, virtual reality and data centres, which require multiple-gigabits-per-second throughput, while having substantial energy and computing power. For this reason, telecom providers have shown interest in using mmWave for 5G deployments.
But in terms of developing IoT applications for mmWave, there are challenges that prevent the technology from being used. First, current mmWave radios are power-hungry and expensive. Second, in mmWave communication, typically there are a few paths between two nodes and so mmWave radios use directional antennas to search for the best beam alignment. The beam searches that make the hardware more complex than traditional radios. They require feedback from access points (AP), which makes them unsuitable for low-power, low-cost IoT devices. For example, recent mmWave platforms developed by research communities such as OpenMilli, MiRa and NI platform as well as commercial mmWave chipsets like Qualcomm QCA9500 consume several watts of power, which is far more than what a camera or an entire low-power WiFi module consumes.
New mmWave Research Makes Breakthrough For IoT Applications
In contrast, researchers from the University of Waterloo have demonstrated a novel design of mmWave network for low-power, low-cost IoT devices known as mmX. The new design is a spatial reuse of the spectrum, making the spectrum usage much more efficient. mmX design contains a new communication modulation scheme, which eliminates the need for beam searching in mmWave radios. The technique is called Over The Air Modulation (OTAM), a novel technique to modulate the IoT signal over the air and eliminating the need for costly phased array and beam searching techniques. The researchers say that their mmWave technology known as can make an adaptation of mmWave communication easier and less costly, paving the way toward many new IoT applications that require high throughputs such as VR and autonomous systems.
Traditional mmWave systems experience high spectrum attenuation which is bad for the network. As a result, the system radio has to compensate for by using a highly directional antenna which requires beam searching. In contrast, the researchers show that they can leverage the directionality property to create modulation over the air which eliminates the need for beam searching as well as simplifying the hardware. This enables the researchers to design a new architecture for mmWave radios which is a first of its kind efficient and cost-effective architecture for IoT applications.
The research, if implemented on the global scale, will remove the load of low-power and low-cost IoT devices from today’s WiFi spectrum. The low investment cost of unlicensed spectrum networks like mmWave, enabled by cost-effective network devices, will drive adoption of Internet of Things devices. Such spectrums will work along with cellular networks such as 4G and 5G to create low power deployments to maximise the capabilities of IoT networks. Utilising mmWave spectrum will remove a huge strain from today’s WiFi spectrum. In fact, most of today’s WiFi networks have much lower performance since their spectrum is overloaded.
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Vishal Chawla is a senior tech journalist at Analytics India Magazine (AIM) and writes on the latest in the world of analytics, AI and other emerging technologies. Previously, he worked as a senior correspondent for IDG CIO and ComputerWorld. Reach out to Vishal on Twitter @_vishalchawla