The Internet of Things Chip Gets a New Spectrum

Last year we learned about Weightless, an Internet of Things chip that solves all the problems of current wireless solutions. It’s low power and has a 10-year battery life (one AA cell), the hardware should cost around $2 per module, and the range of the Weightless devices range from 5+km in urban environments to 20-30km in rural environments. There haven’t been many public announcements from the Weightless SIG since the specification was announced, but today they’re announcing Weightless will include an additional spectrum, the 868/915 MHz ISM spectrum.

weightless

The original plan for Weightless was to use the spectrum left behind by UHF TV – between 470 and 790MHz. Regulatory agencies haven’t been moving as fast as members of the Weightless SIG would have hoped, so now they’re working on a slightly different design that uses the already-allocated ISM bands. They’re not giving up on the TV whitespace spectrum; that’s still part of the plan to put radio modules in everything. The new Weightless-N will be available sooner, though, with the first publicly available base station, module, and SDK arriving sometime next spring.

Weightless has put up a video describing their new Weightless-N hardware; you can check that out below. If you want the TL;DR of how Weightless can claim such a long battery life and huge range from an Internet of Things radio module, here’s an overly simplified explanation: power, range, and bandwidth. Pick any two.

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Weightless, the Internet of Things Chip, Becomes Less Vaporware

weightless

Several months ago, we caught wind of Weightless, a $2 chip that will run for 10 years on a AA battery and communicate to a Weightless base station 10 Km away. Yes, this is the fabled Internet of Things chip that will allow sensors of every type to communicate with servers around the world. It looks like Weightless is becoming less and less vaporware, as evidenced by the Weightless SIG hardware roadmap; Weightless modules might be in the hands of makers and designers in just a few short months.

Weightless is an extremely low-cost wireless module that operates in the radio spectrum previously occupied by analog broadcast television. This is a great place for the Internet of Things, as signals in this spectrum have a lot of range and the ability to go through walls. These signals are sent to a Weightless base station where they are then sent over the Internet to servers around the world.

The Weightless SIG has been hard at work producing new silicon, with the third generation of chips heading for volume production next month. The only thing this chip requires is a battery and an antenna, making Weightless integration for new designs and projects a snap.

There’s one thing Weightless is not, and that’s a free, high-speed connection to the Internet with a $2 adapter. Weightless is designed for sensors that only transmit a kilobyte or so a day – medical sensors, irrigation control, and other relatively boring things. There’s a summary video from the recent 2013 Weightless SIG Summit going over all this information below.

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Weightless, the hopefully-not-vaporware Internet of Things chip

Weightless

Imagine a single chip able to interface with your Ethernet, USB, and serial devices, turn those connections into wireless radio signals with miles of range, able operate off a single AA battery, and costs less than $2. That’s the promise of the Weightless special interest group that wants to put several hopefully not vaporware radio chips in the hands of everyone on the planet.

Long-range wireless networks are a tricky thing; for home networks, Bluetooth and WiFi reign supreme. Venturing into the outdoors, or really any place more than a few hundred feet from a WiFi repeater is a challenge, though. If you’re trying to send data to a fleet of automobiles, track an endangered animal, or make a smart power grid, your only real option is a cell phone tower with very high costs in hardware and battery life.

Weightless hopes to change that with a small radio chip that includes a MAC, PHY, and all the components necessary to turn just about any digital connection into a wireless link between devices. The radio will operate in the spectrum left behind by UHF TV (470 – 790MHz), and the folks working on already have some reference designs etched into silicon.Don’t expect this to replace WiFi, cellular, or Bluetooth, though: according to the getting to know Weighless book, the designers are aiming for a data rate of only a few kB/s.

Still, it’s a great use of now unused spectrum, and would fill a huge gap in what is readily possible with homebrew Internet of Things things.

Tip ‘o the hat to [Mark] for sending this one in.