Articles, IIoT, Industry 4.0

The Unpopular IoT Wireless Non-Standards

Some IoT wireless standards have achieved something of a cult status. There has been so much marketing around these standards that they have become rock stars with their own groupies and diehards. Let them remain nameless, but we all know who they are.

On a recent project to develop an IoT system, one of the requirements we were given was a “rock star” IoT standard. When we tried to push back on our client and suggest we should look at alternatives, we were rebuffed. We continued to pry in an effort to understand their logic without success. Finally, with a look of fear on their faces, they confessed, “our boss told us we must use this standard.”

Let’s face it, these standards were developed at great cost and there is potentially billions of dollars of revenue riding on the one that becomes THE standard – or so many believe. Meanwhile, the non-standards get no recognition. It’s like they do not even exist anymore – their names are unspoken and erased from the temple walls.

Now, there is nothing wrong with a standard. Standards are a great way to get devices from different manufacturers to operate as one system. Without standards, many devices we enjoy now would not be possible: cell phones, computers, the internet, etc. They are all amazing feats of human endeavor which might even deserve divine status.

However, keep in mind that a standard is a compromise. Standards are created when many different users, with different but similar needs, get together to compromise on ONE methodology that satisfies ALL their needs. If you do not need interoperability (playing nice with other devices) and you chose a standard anyway, you are carrying all the baggage of these compromises. That is, your cost is going to be higher, and your performance is going to be lower than a system that was designed to work just for that one application.

For example, let’s look at cars. A car is designed with hundreds of standards. Many of these standards are actually legal requirements, all of them useful I am sure. However, if my only purpose is to go around a closed race track at the fastest possible speed for the least amount of money, you would not choose any car with a standard (a production car). These production cars are so uncompetitive in racing that they do not even race in the same category with a car designed specifically for racing – they are too uncompetitive for it to be a fair fight. Furthermore, and despite popular belief, you do not need to spend more money to get one that will blow the doors off any production car (but you do have to speed a lot of money to get one faster than other race cars).

So, what are these non-standard IoT wireless technologies? Let’s look at three of the most unpopular:

Simple As Possible (SAP): In the early days of IoT/M2M we used very simple systems. That is, we picked a convenient frequency based on antenna size and a simple modulation scheme (usually On-Off-Keying, or OOK), and connected each end to the NRZ UART (a simple type of USB communication) of a low-cost uC. The messages were simple – usually a S/N, sensor type, and Sensor Value. Coexistence was handled with different frequencies or by the fact that transmission were so few and far between that a collision was very unlikely.

These SAP systems have several advantages:
– They have extremely low development cost since they do not have to deal with the complexities of a standard.
– They have extremely low unit cost. In fact, it is the lowest.
– They have extremely long battery life. In fact, it is the longest.

MURS: MURS stands for Multi-Use Radio System and is the common name given to a specific FCC regulation. MURS allows very high output power with very low frequency (0.15GHz). MURS IoT can go much longer distances than other IoT systems, typically 10 times further.

The disadvantage of MURS is it cannot send a video picture from one place to the next since 9600 BUAD is the practical limit of bandwidth. And your antenna length is going to be big compared to higher frequency IoT standards – 900Mhz LoRa and 2.4GHz everything else.

LMRS: LMRS stands for Land Mobile Radio System and again is the common name given for a specific FCC regulation. LMRS is similar to MURS in that you can output high power at a low frequency and therefore get very long range. The big difference is that in LMRS you must obtain a FCC License that costs a few hundred dollars, not to be confused with buying spectrum, and can only be used in B2B, not B2C.

Conclusion: Before you drink your favorite flavor of IoT Standard Kool-Aid, understand all the options available. Create a real Requirements Document (RD) for the product – one that specifies what should be done. Compare and contrast all of these requirements to all the different IoT Wireless methods – regardless of whether they are a standard or not.

About the author:

Steve Owens, Founder and CTO of Finish Line Product Development Services, has over 30 years of successful product development experience in many different industries and is a sought after adviser and speaker on the subject. Steve has founded four successful startups, holds over twenty five patents, and has experience in Internet of Things, M2M, Oil and Gas, and Industrial Controls. Steve’s insight into the product development process has generated millions of dollars in revenue for startups and small businesses.

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