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.

52 thoughts on “The Internet Of Things Chip Gets A New Spectrum

        1. If they was using the whitespace as they said, it is possible. However, even with that whitespace, a full duplex system would be hard to achieve if they plan to have multiple amount of transceivers. Those frequency was mainly one-way. I guess a half duplex, or some kind of multiplexing, is possible.

  1. Their “N” protocol is no different from the myriad of other devices in this part of the ISM spectrum….the story somewhat alludes to something special by mentioning the vapour-ware TVWS radios, but then doesn’t provide any substance (just like Weightless themselves).

    1. 802.11n is significantly different from the other protocols. It has a larger and more robust featureset. It can be both faster and more energy efficient (but not at the same time) than a, b, or g. It has abilities that the others wholly lack. Oh, and it uses both ISM and UNII bands.

      It may be no different to you, but it is different.

  2. I like the idea of having a device that connects to some other base station and not to something you have to have yourself. But I don’t think this is the best way. What could be great is a standard that everyone would agree on and stuff it into regular routers, which is something we all have(bluetooth, zigbee, nrf whatever). Lower BW but same range as wifi should be good for home.
    In my experience you can get a lot more range with nrf24l01 if the central node is equipped with LNA and PA and a better antenna. And the NRF is a $1 chip.
    Still, all this trouble might not be worth it with the plethora of cheap wifi chips now emerging. everyone will love using their already existing wifi network.
    i think the best choice would be if a special protocol/standard/whatever is created on top of wifi to allow even lower power for sensor nodes(just software changes)

    1. All those you mentioned have things in common, except for the battery life that the Weightless offers. Sure WiFi, Bluetooth, and other RF modules are readily available now, and are easy to set-up, but then how long would those last with a single AA cell? Of course given that Weightless is indeed not a vaporware.

      1. Weightles would last so long in some special conditions: lithium AA(low self discharge) and low power consumption achieved by seldom data transmission combined with short distance to base station. You can totally achieve the same thing with current simple radio modules. What matters most is the application, how often do you need to send data.
        Wifi is more difficult to achieve such lifetime… for now.

  3. Do you really want 5-30km range though? Everything should be set with a reasonable power limit so you’re not sending the signal any further out that necessary. Insane range will just mean you’ll be flooded with packets from devices that aren’t yours and aren’t near you at all. If they’re not careful about how it is all setup for security then you might be revealing information to everybody in a 30km radius.

  4. Great idea but if i try to google too much I end up at ‘official’ 404’s lol.

    I will believe it when I see it. Other than that (as someone mentioned) it’s back to the NRF24lxxx

      1. Where did you read alkaline or carbon? The HaD summary says “one AA cell” and the NWave site states “Modem battery-life of 10+ years based on single AA lithium battery”. NWave have been doing this stuff for years (for industrial/government type remote meter monitoring) – so there’s not much new except the partnership with Weightless which is trying to make a low bandwidth, low energy, cheap xmitter solution a standard.

    1. That was my first question. The numbers I’ve seen regarding AA shelf life vary widely. However, I would be interested in seeing how far that power, range, and bandwidth triangle can be stretched.

  5. Weightless is basically dead now, since with the frequency pivot the technology is virtually identical to that uses by SigFox/LoRa, and SigFox & Semtech have a lot more money to bring their technology to market.

    1. “SigFox & Semtech have a lot more money to bring their technology to market.”… really? Weightless is a standard backed by ARM, CSR (Soon to be acquired by Qualcomm), Cable and Wireless, and Neul (soon to be part of Huawei). That is quite a formidable force and a with a Cellular and 2.4G pedigree that is quite an opposition for a relatively new startup. Also Sigfox’s money isn’t endless, They have asked for a further $50m in funding…

      1. Backing a standard doesn’t mean too much. It means that a rep from each of these companies goes to a meeting twice a year — that is all. Most companies in this game back LOTS of standards. Neul was purchased by Huawei as an “innovation lab,” which also doesn’t mean too much. Big companies like Huawei have big internal bureaucracies, and the acqui-hire they just did on Neul (best guess, $5-10M) isn’t going to kick any company-wide agendas into high gear. The fact that SigFox is raising €50M is actually quite impressive. That is, some investors must value their company around €150M in order for them to float that kind of round.

        1. I thought the Neul deal was 25M, but still :-). but I get your point.

          “Backing a standard doesn’t mean too much”. I disagree there, standards are everything, without a standard you end up with a battle of propriety systems, and the biggest looser there is end users. You can’t expect every ISM operator to add Company X Y and Z back haul to their systems. From what I understand SigFox’s BTS offering will remain proprietary…

          Bluetooth and Wifi are great examples of when standards work. Even from the early days you had… “BT will kill Wifi”, “Wifi Direct will kill BT” but actually they have been quite complimentary, and although like any standards committee they have been painful slow at times… they have been very successful. Sure there are examples of standards that have failed, but they *almost* always win over proprietary.

          eg Ericsson moved away from Microlink to contribute to the initial Bluetooth standard, even working with competitor Nokia.

          Nwave who have similar offerings to SigFox have jumped onto Weightless, That can only accelerate the ability to have Weightless-N products in a very short space of time.
          http://myemail.constantcontact.com/Leading-IoT-connectivity-vendor-joins-Weightless-SIG-to-drive-new-spec.html?soid=1108403722470&aid=z8G48s-nBEE

          I don’t know if Weightless will win the race, but there is more to it than how deep the pockets are of the competitors, and far to early to declare any of the competitors dead just yet.

          :-)

  6. Re: the 10 years on an AA. Take this with a grain of salt. Also take with a grain of salt the 10 km range. These are marketing specs that are INDIVIDUALLY possible in special cases, but are UNLIKELY to ever be observable in normal usage. This is actually not unusual in technology marketing, so I can’t really blame them for playing the same game everyone does. For example, BLE products tend to claim 50m range & 1Mbps data rate, which is a far more egregious piece of horsesh_t marketing than what weightless is announcing.

    That said, the product is designed with a focus on long range and low power. The trade-off is connection latency, which you can expect to be rubbish. For remote reporting applications, though, connection latency can be a non-issue. For dynamic, 2-way connectivity apps, I wouldn’t expect Weightless (or SigFox) to possess a good solution.

    1. Yeah, everyone reports the maximum of all metrics, even though none of the extremes can be useful in real life.
      Let’s make a sensor with a simple switch that gets activated once a year >> 10 years stand by on a battery.
      We need range: fire up the amp to the max, add a PA and a 2 meter antenna >> 10Km of range.

      Need a temperature sensor that reports every 2 minutes 5km away from the base station and cannot place a huge antenna? Well, it looks like you have to replace the battery every monday.

      But seriously, if one company reports the max like this, all others would lose if they don’t. As long as there is no proper standard way to test it in more realistic conditions we’ll keep seeing numbers like this.

  7. I’ve had people tell me the 900 MHz range is pretty packed with a lot of noise and transmitters operating at illegal power levels which causes things to not come close to the theoretical limits. I haven’t confirmed this myself but will soon as I have a pair of XBee radios operating in that range that I need to test.

    1. I developed some ISM devices (Ca. 2003) using the Xemics (now Semstech) XE12xx series and they were quite robust in the 900-928 MHz range. These devices were FCC approved (< 1.0 mW output) and got about 600 ft LOS with PCB mounted chip antennas. I used two radios (diversity mode) in the master device to minimize multipath fade. This really helped with such low power devices. Single chip radios have come a long way since then.

  8. How the heck do they think that they are going to get 10km or range (let alone 5km) when the distance to the horizon for the average adult at eye-level is less than 5km, and they are using a frequency band that is strictly line-of-sight (troposphereic ducting, meteor scatter, and satellite communcations aside)?

    1. Because the base station can be on a tower, high up. Just like mobile phones can reach 20Km at about the same frequency. Also scattering, reflections etc.

      With 1W of power, proper antenna and properly placed base station it should be possible.

    2. They wont get close to 10Km. they are making pure BS claims based on theory in open space not real world performance.

      1W = 1Km in real world and will not let that AA battery last 10 years. 1-5mw is a more realistic power level for a device this size and build. Far too many of their claims are based on max possible theoretical and not real information.

  9. 10Km range at UHF frequencies is unpossible unless that is at the top of a 200 foot tower to another one at the top of another 200 foot tower and a 9dbi gain antenna between them.

    Hell running 50 watts at 440mhz into a 1/4 wave on top of my car and I cant get 4 Km to another car in the city, less than that in wooded areas as 400mhz-500mhz is soaked up by living things very readily.

    10 meter range is more of a honest range at the power levels they are talking about.

    1. Agreed. Case in point, I made contact on 440 with a repeater 50 miles distant once with a 5/8 ground plane at 5 watts. But the repeater was on a 200 foot tower and I was on a 2000 foot mountain. (Sideling Hill -> K3PZN) Special circumstances.

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