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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thinking Like a Dandelion (1)

This disposition of each – or even most – of the seeds isn’t the important thing, from a dandelion’s point of view. The important thing is that every spring, every crack in every pavement is filled with dandelions. The dandelion doesn’t want to nurse a single precious copy of itself in the hopes that it will leave the nest and carefully navigate its way to the optimum growing environment, there to perpetuate the line.  The dandelion just wants to be sure that every single opportunity for reproduction is exploited.  – Cory Doctorow

Bluetooth SIG is to announce the result of its 2nd world cup of Bluetooth Low Energy application competition in these couple of days. There are arguments if this event is really efficient in searching for killer applications. I kind of have the same feeling. While such event is a good push to increase the awareness and trials among engineers. It can not be counted on for the killer application pursuit. Killer apps are from people trying to solve real, not fictitious problems. Bluetooth Low Energy has already been potentially better than its competitors in terms of enabling killer applications, it just needs to realize this advantage as soon as possible,
then to retain the edge.  

What I am mean that “BLE is better” is in the term of ubiquity.

The context of wireless sensor network today is so different to the time when Wi-Fi and classic Bluetooth entered to our lives more than ten years ago. It is no longer two or three technology candidates competing at an industrial committee and then the winner get the unanimous endorsement from a handful of semiconductor suppliers. The advancement of semiconductor technology has made the IC price cheap enough and the platform programmable and flexible enough, so that companies with a good idea and protocol targeting to a relatively niche market are able build solutions on top of an existing chip platform and thrive as fast as a couple of years.

So we have seen a plenty of competing technologies, plus many more not listed here.

Zigbee –  smart energy, health, remote control etc. 2.4GHz / 900 / 800 MHz, 802.15.4
Z-Wave – home area network; 800 / 900 MHz FSK radio
WirelessHart – industrial control; 2.4GHz, 802.15.4 radio
ISA100 - industrial control; 2.4GHz, 802.15.4 radio
ANT – sports, fitness, health; 2.4GHz, FSK radio
BodyLan – as seen in Nike+; 2.4GHz, FSK radio
Dash7 – logistics control and others; 433MHz FSK radio.

Sure, there are still the traditional way of committee grown and managed standards. But there are more proprietary protocols seriously in the battle field. The latter have taken the advantage of the cheap price and flexible platform of semiconductors to go after the targeting market segment without bothering the committees. Instead of being filtered by a room of so called specialists and experts, these protocols are instead filtered by the market. The competition is far away from stopping at the committee level (mainly on theoretical, academic debates, lab testing results, plus political fightings) and move further to the piratical engineering and customer and consumer acceptance. The roadmaps of traditional and the new proprietary standards are reversely different.

The traditional approach: raising proposal to industrial committee for review and compete with others => winning the committee => implemented by semiconductor companies => getting to the big market, thriving or surviving here, there or nowhere

The new way: Facing a real problem to solve and developing a solution => implementing on a semiconductor platform => going to the specific market niche, surviving or dying => if surviving, then forming its own consortium or going after existing committees for further growth in a bigger market.

This is the context of today's WSN world. The standards that we are aware of all have their reasons to stay. Especially for the proprietary protocol based “new” standards, all have been proven and are shipping in volume and have a leading position in their specific segment.

In such a context, where does the confidence of the late comer, Bluetooth Low Energy, come from when speaking of getting into markets, such as  smart energy, sports and fitness, PC accessories, remote controls, industrial monitoring etc. It is from their belief of the prevalence of BLE on smart phones and the prevalence of smart phones in our life. Simply put, it is its assumed ubiquitous.