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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Can We Have Hopes for Continua Low Power Radio Selection?

Six wireless sensor technologies are competing started from today until Friday, face to face, in public, to become low power radio standards of Continua Health Alliance. I use "standards" instead of "standard", because a lot of people wish two technologies be selected, one is for, in the Continua technical working groups term, "LP-PAN" and the other is for "LP-LAN".

The event is the Spring summit of Continua Health Alliance in Barcelona. Just last Friday, David Whitlinger, the president of Continua Health alliance received an interview by Brian Dolan of mobihealthnews. A detail blog was online the same day. This publishing speed let me believe the view points disclosed are close to the real idea of the president, without second thoughts and withdrawals. Of course, I am more interested in his comments about low power wireless technologies.

Here is what he said:

"So, what we can expect from Continua in the year ahead?

Version 2 of our guidelines is well on its way. Some of the new things going on: There is another radio selection that’s going on. A lot of the work toward choosing it is beginning in Barcelona at a summit this coming week. That radio selection will be predominantly geared toward the health and fitness devices that are typically body worn. The shoe pods, heart rate straps and other things that are body worn sensors. Being able to connect those to a cell phone or a fitness watch or the broader Internet. There are a number of candidates for this radio technology: Bluetooth low power is on the list; Zigbee is on the list; ANT is on the list; BodyLAN is on the list. There are several of these low-power radios. So that radio selection is going on this next week and then the other use cases being address via low power radio are the sensors that might be distributed throughout the home of an elder individual, for example. The bed pressure sensors, the motion detector sensors and so forth. That radio selection process is also scheduled to begin soon. It’s possible they could both be the same technology, but because the use cases are different there is an option that there could be two separate radio technologies. We will make some announcement on that once the decision is made, but it will take a bit of time for us to put some messaging around that."

I read out something new that are different from what I've heard and felt from my Continua participation. And this something new is what I like to see.

First of all, the body worn sensor is the prime. The president did not say it. But I selectively read this way. I am a not a believer of home automation. (See my blog Any Flaws in Home Automation Use Cases and A User's Experiences of Z-Wave).

Secondly, one technology for both use cases should be the target. It makes more sense to have one technology to cover both, for example you can use your watch or phone to monitor your heart rate, but also to control the room temperature, as well as having your daily activity and health data uploaded to PC for tracking.

There are always reasons for the unreasonable. From day one when low power radio was still in use case study, political issues have been convoluted with the technical and market needs. Sure this is common among all standard organizations. So I was not surprised at all that the two-technology option is driven hard by TWG with dominant voices from technology vendors of BT LE and Zigbee, because Bluetooth Low Energy can not do complex network and Zigbee can not do body worn.

Let's go to Continua low power radio selection process. Certainly, no process in the world is perfect. But there is one fatal in this Continua one; that is "the players are also the referees". It was a group of technology vendors sitting together to generate the use cases. It is the same group of vendors sitting together to make the scoring rules. It will be the same group of vendors fighting to score others and defend themselves. In the low power radio discussion, if we can still call it discussion, it is always who has the most members who win. Zigbee org seems put a lot of hopes in Continua after they have not seen success in homes, buildings and factories. They have several key organization leaders sitting in Continua discussion and even be the editor of documents. Just as what I said, there are always reasons for the unreasonable. But I can only guess but do not know why and how this is allowed.

But where is customers' voices? Can consumers have an opinion? From the voice of the Continua president, at least I see a slim hope. We DO need not-for-profit guys in not-for-profit organizations.

I really do not know what to expect for the low power radio standard. For the peace of Continua, the ideal situation is Zigbee winning LP-LAN and Bluetooth Low Energy winning LP-PAN. Any other results will cause turmoil within Continua. However, will any of the two technologies meet the marketing requirements? This is what David Whitlinger should concern most.

There are four other technologies competing with Zigbee and Bluetooth Low Energy. They are ANT, BodyLAN (used in Nike+), Sensium and Z-wave. Has Zigbee won Z-Wave in home automation market? When will the standard of Bluetooth Low Energy be released? Among the four SDO competitors, ANT has created the loudest noises, interests and concerns. I think in a lot guys eyes, ANT is really the BUG. It creates the noise and the mess, and just won't go away.

ANT claims it can do both LP-PAN and LP-LAN; it is the best on power consumption; and it is the most comprehensive to address different kinds of usage scenarios. In the last two weeks, the noises from ANT is not just from within Continua, but outside in the market, and with its partners. ANT probably has more press releases in the last two weeks than in the past two years. On purpose or coincident? ANT has announced Microsoft Healthvault and A&D medical (also a Continua contributing member) joining ANT+ alliance, Epson C17 dev kit to support ANT modules and the launch of fitness equipment digital interface. They published some new demonstrations on you tube.

In my opinion, the most likely result from the low power radio selection due by April is of no result and delay. This may be the best choice for Continua now.

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