Tamara Moskaliuk explores software defined radios as universal hubs for IoT
The everything “smart” revolution is upon us: from watches, homes, factories, to even full scale cities, there is a demand for robust integration of data, metrics, and overall monitoring to make everything easier and more efficient for people, businesses, governments, and mankind, from turning off a light bulb in a home, to shutting off streetlights in a whole city. What is the backbone behind this? The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a giant network of interconnected objects that are capable of collecting and exchanging data, while machine-to-machine (M2M) is a closely related concept that refers to networking of objects for the purposes of control, monitoring and data exchange. Key factors that are accelerating the IoT/M2M revolution include availability of low cost wireless devices, rapid growth in cloud services and a growing understanding of the wide-scale application of these technologies.
IoT and M2M solutions are used in a diverse array of sectors, including manufacturing, healthcare, education, smart cities and home automation, which greatly vary in scale and end user requirements. For complex applications, such as smart cities, IoT hubs can take data from multiple use cases: waste, lighting, parking, environmental monitoring, transportation, and more, to create more harmonized and efficient operations of an area. Careful consideration needs to be made for configuring multiple hubs to capture various areas and overcome physical obstacles that may impede signal, such as concrete and trees, and to be able to handle the vast amount of information.
IoT on a large scale, needs high performance radios with high bandwidth, multi-channels, and a wide tuning range to offer the flexibility to adapt to rapidly changing technology. Many are now using software defined radios (SDRs) to handle the requirements. A SDR is a flexible radio system that uses hardware for tuning but software to process any of the signals transmitted or received. Unlike traditional radios that use hardware for dedicated processing, SDRs are highly flexible and versatile. SDR platforms can tune to a wide frequency range and can use different software applications to enable different protocols and applications. SDR platforms also support full duplex operation enabling both transmit and receive even at different frequencies.
Although IoT and M2M have arguably taken the world by storm, their full potential is far from fully realized. Some of the challenges facing today’s IoT solutions are that they are highly fragmented and use a broad array of protocols including Bluetooth, Zigbee, DDS, XMPP, MQTT, CoAP, and OMA LWM2M. This lack of a common protocol means that frequency, bandwidth and other performance specifications vary from one device to another. Realizing the full potential of these technologies requires a solution that offers flexibility, security, and longevity to accommodate future changes to devices on the IoT network.
SDRs can operate at a broad range of frequencies – enabling them to accommodate a range of standards, while traditional methods are stuck at a narrower range. SDRs incorporate field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), which allow for easy reprogramming to accommodate different protocols and operations. As universal hubs, they connect devices from various brands, frequencies, and communication protocols.
When evaluating and selecting an SDR, one needs a solution that is versatile, adaptable and capable of delivering high performance, which won’t become obsolete or limit project expansion due to not being able to keep up with technological advances. The following are the two most impactful things to evaluate:
The critical limitations of SDRs are related to the available number of channels, bandwidths, tuning range (or frequency of operation), and available signal processing resources. By incorporating an SDR with a greater number of channels will allow support of multiple devices and frequencies concurrently while the bandwidth will be the limiting factor on the amount of RF information that can be captured instantaneously. All of this can only be done across the tuning range of the SDR and it is critical to have the signal processing resources to handle all of the data being captured. In general, the largest bandwidth SDRs with wide band tuning and high channel counts will allow for the best possible performance.
Integration & support
As the complexity of the deployment increases it is paramount to ensure that the best SDR is selected with an additional benefit of working with a company that offers full integration support. This will help ensure the best performance while ensuring trade offs can be made to help reduce overall costs and time to deployment, along with the overall system performance.
Overall, IoT is a fascinating and growing industry and technology who’s impact and spread we haven’t found the end of. With proper implementation, integration and long term planning, creating effective and practical smart cities and ecosystems is a present day reality for a future world, solving the problems of today and tomorrow. Finding the right solutions for IoT hubs is part of the process.