Custom Search

Monday, January 18, 2010

2009 Retrospect - Getting to the Battle Field

2009 continued to be a buzzing year for the world of ultra low power wireless sensor networks. More people, up to the president and down to normal consumers, started to realize how these technologies could improve their daily lives, thanks to the efforts of companies and organization from different sections all coming together. Two prominent  forces are from smart energy / green power and health / fitness.

In response, in 2009 the WSN world  left us with

1. Many new open standards announced and released
2. Fast ever growth of proprietary solutions, many of which have completely morphed into "open" standards, widely admitted or not.

New Open Standards:

1. Bluetooth Low Energy: Though only up to the controller layer, BTLE specification finally made into the BT core spec V4.0 before Christmas. The specification has been long waited since the announcement of Wibree joining Bluetooth in May 2007. I believe those competing technologies are the main reasons causing the schedule slippery. I witnessed those fierce debates in Continua health alliance, e.g. on broadcasting vs. P2P, which at that time, BTLE was not able to support. The late comer should be better than the existing players. The open standard should be better than the proprietaries. At least this is what many people believe. BTLE when fully released in April should not make the industry disappointed.

2. DASH7: A standard running on 433MHz with a solid root in RFID applications, DASH7 is the application layer of ISO 18000-7, which is similar to Zigbee on top of IEEE 802.15.4. DASH7 naturally put its first focus on logistic and asset tracking, which has generally been left by other technologies because of many technical challenges. Some great marketing efforts of DASH7 alliance has made the standard known by the industry in a very short time. Their marketing has convinced me that attacking Zigbee is still not an outdated tactics.

3. ISA100.11a: Released in September. Though WirelessHart has been there for more than a year with products in use, though both technologies are based on the same IEEE 802.15.4, we did not see a united plant automation market. Many experts claimed it is impossible to converge the two. Frustrating enough, this, in my eyes, is a winning of one camp led by Honeywell over another including Emerson for reasons not much technical.

4. Wi-Fi Direct: Don't forget about this announcement in Oct. Though it is to enable point to point high speed applications and not to primarily intend any sensor networks, the implication to personal WSN technologies could be huge. At this early stage and as a outside observer, my guess could be irrelevant or far off the track. But I dare to throw out my thought here. Besides the impact to Bluetooth already pointed out by many analysts, Wi-Fi could work with one of the ultra low power WSN solutions in the market today to form a complete solution to replace Bluetooth, high speed and low power. Technically, the advancement of semiconductor allows this to happen.

Growth of Opened -Proprietary Solutions:

We should really gave them a concise new name acceptable by all, instead of calling them either "proprietary" or "open". Today, the open standards (Bluetooth and Zigbee) call them proprietary though respective self-claimed consortium have established.

1. EnOcean and EnOcean Alliance: well established in building automation and light control segment. Over 100,000 buildings have been enabled by EnOcean, it goes the furthest among all other proprietaries by offering its standard to the public. In near term, there seems no other serious competitors in its market niche.

2. ANT and ANT+ Alliance: 2009 was a busy year for ANT to prepare for the expected competition from Bluetooth Low Energy. The biggest news was Texas Instruments has licensed ANT to deliver System-on-Chips. Thus, two of the four BTLE single mode chip vendors also offer ANT chips. Their twitter also reported phone chip maker engagement. True or not, getting into cell phone is one of their objective. The alliance has grown to close to 200 members with dominant position in sports market. Some fitness equipment makers starts to offer ANT+ links in the year also. 

3. Z-Wave and Z-Wave Alliance: 2009 was the first full year of Z-Wave under the reign of the new owner Sigma Designs. It continued the growth in home automation market though not creating loud noises. I think the biggest progress of Z-Wave was that many home energy monitoring devices has built Z-Wave link along with Zigbee. For home area networks, a complete solutions can not exclude Z-Wave.


1. Zigbee continues to grow its portfolio and list of promise. In 2009, we saw RF4CE joining Zigbee and the completion of Zigbee health care profile and remote control profile. Product wise, the biggest successful story to me is the location solution from Awarepoint for hospital asset tracking, somehow the alliance has not put any serious efforts on.

2. Continua Health Alliance selected Zigbee as low power LAN solution and Bluetooth Low Energy as low power PAN solution. This was the only face to face competition in 2009 and basically on paper. I have said enough and have several posts before and after.

2009 was a year that late comers hurried in and current players solidified their stands, but the competition on paper was interesting and entertaining enough already. We can not wait for the real battles this year and 2011, when products are in the market and end users are able to make their choices.

(This is a late review that I planned to post before Christmas. But after searching around, I do not see anything available yet. So hopefully, you find it is still useful. While writing, I did  not do any press release scanning, rather I trust my personal impression.)

No comments:

Post a Comment