Wireless Connectivity: 900MHz, Wi-Fi, and BLE

Deciding which type of wireless connection to implement in a device can be a cumbersome task. Each solutions allows for communication without sorting through an abundance of wires. The 900MHz, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) wireless communication tools can be used to resolve limitations in budget as well as situations where wire placement is troublesome. None of these connections are necessarily any worse than the other, but some connections are better suited for certain environments and uses. The specifications and practical applications for each wireless connection are as followed:

900MHz: 900MHz is part of the UHF radio spectrum and allows for communication in a very local setting. This issue with radio waves is that they can be subject to some interference, so it may be beneficial to check for similar and existing frequencies in potential environments, but a majority of the time it won’t be an issue. The radio-enabled wireless connection can have more range than 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi and has the ability to travel through walls and objects with much more success due to its low frequency. This wireless option is the most applicable if efficient and quick communication is needed. 900MHz can typically communicate with desired devices in under ten seconds.

Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi is a very practical solution if instantaneous communication is not a concern. Most devices that operate with Wi-Fi are able to operate while offline and can be updated periodically via the internet. Wi-Fi typically has a greater range than BLE, but consumes a good amount of power while operating. Setting up a Wi-Fi connection is also more tedious than it may be with BLE or 900MHz. If security is a concern, Wi-Fi has a more complex encryption than the other options. Wi-Fi removes the locational restraints and allows for greater command over a network of interconnected devices.

BLE: BLE connection is very useful when communication is occurring between multiple devices that are near each other. The speed and data transfer rates of BLE are not great, making it best suited for low-bandwidth use. BLE devices consume low amounts of energy; this can be beneficial for long-term use as operational costs will be very low. This connection assimilates very well with consumer applications of the Internet of Things.

Before any wireless connection is used in a device, there are several factors that need to be reviewed in order to maximize functionality. Manufacturers need to consider the context in which the wireless communication will be occurring. For instance, elements such as speed, signal range, reliability and accessibility, power consumption, security, and user-friendliness are some of the critical things to consider when analyzing applicability of a wireless connection.

CAN FD – The Next Big (Fast) Thing

 

The CAN protocol (ISO 11898) has remained relatively unchanged since it was introduced in 1993 as CAN 2.0 A/B. In the last few years, CAN FD (for Flexible Data rate or “Fast Data” as we like to call it) was introduced and is now defined as ISO 11898-1. The CAN FD protocol is backward compatible. Any CAN FD device can understand CAN 2.0 frames (now known as “Classic CAN”). However, the opposite is not true. If a Classic CAN node encounters a CAN FD frame, it will destroy the packet with an error frame.

Classic CAN has been the de facto standard for in-vehicle communication for the automotive industry since the 90s. CAN has also been used as the lower-layer protocol for a number of other “higher-layer” protocols such as CANopen, J1939, DeviceNet and more. This has resulted in the CAN protocol being widely deployed in factory automation, heavy-duty vehicles and engines, and internal machine communication – such as elevators and medical equipment.

The automotive industry is the main driver behind the adaptation of CAN FD. The complexity of software in automobiles has increased over time, and the number of systems that communicate with each other via CAN bus has also increased. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of in-vehicle bus nodes went from about 10 nodes to more than 40 systems. This trend has continued into the 21st century, as in-vehicle communication demands have put further and further strain on vehicle design, causing an ever increasing number of CAN bus networks in the vehicle. Through the adaption of CAN FD, in-vehicle communication architectures will be able to accomplish more with less!

The basic idea of CAN FD is to speed up the bit rate during the “payload” part of a CAN frame. In this way up to 8 times more payload (64 bytes vs. 8 bytes) can be delivered in the same amount of time. So the beginning and end of the frame are transmitted at “Classic CAN” speeds, and the CAN transceivers just flip a switch and speed up for the payload part of the message. When you consider that the rest of the frame is at slower speeds, the overall increase in speed is about 6 times faster. Not all messages need 64 bytes of data of course, so the diagram below shows how a CAN FD message of 8 bits and 64 bytes compare to a Classic CAN frame of 8 bytes.

CANFDdiagram

The question is why didn’t CAN FD just speed up the whole message? Why just the payload? The answer requires a slightly deeper understanding of the CAN protocol. A basic element of the CAN protocol is its arbitration process. When two nodes transmit at the same instant, their messages “collide” and they must both “back-off” and retransmit at different intervals according to priority. Another basic element of the protocol is that nodes on a bus must be reached within a “bit time” during this arbitration. The notion of a “bit time” has implications on the length of the bus – the actual cable, since electrical signals have a finite propagation speed. Therefore, a CAN bus running with 1 Mbit/s has a maximum length of 40 meters by rule of thumb. If CAN FD sped up the whole bus, the higher bit rates would shorten the bus cable to unsuitable lengths.

The automotive industry is readying itself to start initial implementation of CAN FD in its designs for 2016, with vehicles hitting the market with CAN FD hardware the following year. As this industry ramps up and more and more ECU’s (in-vehicle “Electronic Control Units) and sensors and actuators also adapt CAN FD, more companies with ties to automotive (suppliers, service companies, dealers, OEMs, etc.) will need CAN FD-capable interfaces. Luckily, Peak-System from Germany is one of the first companies to introduce a CAN-FD interface, (PCAN-USB-FD), and it has been fully tested to the standard. Additional hardware and software supporting CAN FD are on the way. Grid Connect has Peak’s CAN FD products in stock now – we are ready for the next big (fast) thing!

> Click here to download the complete CAN FD White Paper

Grid Connect is Connecting the Internet of Things

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Connecting products to the Internet of Things (IoT) is essential to manufacturers looking to stay competitive within their industry. Adding IoT capabilities gives consumers more features. It also allows the manufacturer to stay connected with their customers while discovering new product use cases and applications that open them up to new revenue streams.

The “Internet of Things” (IoT) is a phrase used to describe making everyday objects “smart” by adding networking and connectivity to them. Grid Connect Inc.’s DNA has been IoT from the very beginning.

Grid Connect can supply your team with technology, custom engineering, expert knowledge and support at all levels of the IoT pyramid. We provide end-to-end solutions starting with your existing product and ending with a truly smart device.

All of our solutions are designed to fit your company’s needs and can include:

  • OEM solutions
  • Custom hardware
  • Custom firmware
  • Cloud development
  • App development

To further illustrate Grid Connect’s knowledge and abilities within the IoT marketplace, consumers can purchase our own product line of IoT-connected devices. ConnectSense is a family of wireless sensors for your home or business. Each sensor uses the Wi-Fi network in your location and communicates to the ConnectSense cloud application. The ConnectSense cloud stores data from your sensors and generates notifications when a rule you have set applies to your environment. For example, if the ConnectSense Water Sensor in your basement detects water, the sensor will communicate this change to the cloud application. From here, the cloud application will then determine what to do with this new information, such as send you a notification so that you can react appropriately.


If you are looking to add connectivity to your product, download “10 Internet of Things Design Considerations” and call Grid Connect at +1 (800) 975-GRID or fill out the form here.

 

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Putting User Interface at the Start of Your IoT Design Process

How are your buyers going to interface with your product?

This is one of the toughest aspects of Internet of Things (IoT) product design right now. Today’s consumers and business owners expect multiple ways to access and control the world around them and options for connected devices are numerous.

User interface options for IoT design range from using a smart home panel or gateway to an on-product LCD/LED display. The LCD/LED display can then be paired with LEDs or push buttons. In addition, apps to monitor and control connected devices can be web-based or available for on-the-go consumers with smart phones.

To determine what kind of user interface your product design needs, you must consider two things:

  1. The type of product
  2. The use-cases for this product

For example, is this product going to be used strictly in one location or on the go? Will it need to by physically touched to work or will it need to be operated remotely or both? Where will the user want to see the information that the device is collecting and how are they going to use that data?

Wi-Fi-enabled IoT devices may also have the ability to act as a soft access point (soft AP) to allow a user to “join” its network locally with a smart phone, laptop or tablet. Soft APs make product LED/LCD displays unnecessary since the screen of the connected device will serve the same purpose. Using a soft AP does not preclude the module from also connecting to the Internet and cloud-based services with some Wi-Fi modules though. This dual-mode is very attractive because the user can access the product remotely and locally, depending on the features and use-cases for the product.

So, what interface will provide the best user experience for your buyers? This needs to be one of the first questions you ask when designing a product for the IoT in order to provide the easiest and overall best experience for your customers.

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10 Internet of Things (IoT) Design Considerations: Interoperability and Security

9. Interoperability

As more manufacturers enable their products for the IoT, consumers will be introduced to many different cloud applications due to lack of cooperation between difference devices and companies. This is where the emerging IoT standards can help. Device manufacturers who support these standards will be able to ensure their products will be able to work and communicate with other manufacturers’ products that support the same protocols. This makes operating many IoT-enabled devices together much more simple and convenient. This also opens up new business opportunities by allowing for new features that the original manufacturers never dreamed of. For example, interoperability means that one day it might be possible for a consumer to simply say, “good night, house” to their app, and the app will programmatically turn-off all of the main house lights, TV’s and appliances and turn on the outside lighting, set the alarm clock for the morning and set the coffee pot to start brewing when the sun rises. In this example, each device could be from a different manufacturer, but since they all support the same standard, the application knows how to talk to them all and create new service offerings.

Some of the emerging interoperability standards include: Thread (supported by the likes of Google/Nest, Samsung and more), HomeKit (supported by Apple), AllJoyn (supported by Microsoft and Sony, part of the AllSeen Alliance), IETF (an internet standards body) and ETSI (a European-based standards organization – primarily in Telecom). The standards landscape is changing rapidly and manufacturers need to adapt their products to work with these standards as they are consolidated and settled in the future.

10. Security

Building a secure IoT-enabled device comes at a cost. As the IoT continues to grow, there is an increasing focus on its security and how safe the claims of end-to-end solutions really are. While security threats in the news have scared away some manufacturers and consumers from entering the IoT space, others view it as an opportunity for added value to their products. Implementing high-cost security into every product a company has is ideal, however not very economical. Manufacturers must find proper security for each of their IoT solutions while keeping costs down for them and their end-user.

This process must start at the time of a product’s conception. Proper due-diligence is required from each manufacturer to find a way to secure their devices, protect their consumer and ultimately, the rest of the IoT world as well.

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>  For more information, please call Grid Connect Inc. at +1 (630) 245-1445, or email us at iot@gridconnect.com.

10 Internet of Things (IoT) Design Considerations: Antenna and Cloud

7. Antenna

Most IoT products use wireless technologies to connect with the world. The type and number of wireless technologies used will impact the type and number of antennas needed. For example, 900MHz, 2.4GHz and 5GHz radios all may have different requirements for antenna design.

Module manufacturers often provide multiple options for antennas, such as an on-board chip or ceramic antennas. They may also offer a wire (or “whip”) antenna, a “trace” antenna, or a “pin-out” so the manufacturer can add their own antenna (either internal or external connector elsewhere on the circuit board). In addition manufacturers may offer U.FL (also called IPEX) connectors for external. In this case, the connection from the U.FL connector to the external antenna is accomplished with a short coaxial “pigtail” that has the mating U.FL connector on one end and the mating connector for the antenna on the other end. The costs of the pigtail and antenna are often overlooked but need to be included in a manufacturer’s BOM for their designs.

When selecting between internal and external antennas, designers must consider the material (metal, plastic, etc.) of the housing and the potential placement of the product within a home or business. If a product is placed behind a couch or under a desk, it may have difficulty getting a wireless signal from the nearest gateway, access point, or router. Metal housings almost always require an external antenna design because the metal in the housing greatly reduces the amount of radio frequencies getting in or out of the housing.

8. Cloud

By definition, most IoT applications include some Cloud-based component. Many manufacturers entering the IoT space are new to Cloud development, which makes decision-making for Cloud applications, such as how and when a product will connect to the Cloud, difficult.

“How” an IoT-enabled device communicates with a cloud application refers to what protocol is being used to communicate with the Cloud. Many early IoT implementations followed a proprietary protocol, where the device manufacturer implements its own protocol to communicate with its cloud applications. Recently, more companies have become aware that a standard protocol is needed for IoT communications to be successful and have started providing third party, end-to-end solutions with platforms to develop and host applications.

“When” an IoT device connects to the cloud, refers to the frequency of data exchange with the cloud application. Devices that are always on (connected to a power supply) can easily stay connected to the cloud constantly. This improves the ability to be “near real time” when communicating with the Cloud application. Battery-powered devices often only connect to the internet and send data periodically in order to conserve battery life. In this case there is a delay, as the device has to re-establish its connection to the wireless router and then to the Cloud server. Battery-powered devices should also consider a “heart-beat,” so that the device connects to the Cloud application periodically without an event to trigger it. This allows the application to know the device is still online and has power or battery-life remaining for when an event does occur.

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>  For more information, please call Grid Connect Inc. at +1 (630) 245-1445, or email us at iot@gridconnect.com.

10 Internet of Things (IoT) Design Considerations: Power and Size

5. Power

Power considerations need to be made when connecting a product to the IoT. Products already using a wall outlet will not have an issue. Manufacturers of products not using a wall outlet will have to consider how their power source will affect their product’s design.

IoT devices running on batteries will have to make hardware decisions based on power conservation. There are also a variety of different types of batteries to be taken into consideration: alkaline, lithium (rechargeable) and coin. There are also AA, AAA, coin cell, C, D, 9V, or custom batteries to choose from. As noted earlier, wireless technologies have different power requirements based on use-cases. Once a manufacturer understands how long and how often a device will be connected and the wireless network is chosen, a properly sized and type of battery can be chosen.

Another source of power for Ethernet-based devices is Power-over-Ethernet (PoE). This technology is popular for low-wattage IP phones and security cameras. Recent advancements and new switching technology is pushing the wattage available through PoE to new levels, thus opening up new possibilities for more power-hungry applications and devices.

6. Size

Many manufacturers start testing the IoT waters by modifying their existing product designs to add networking technologies. Because these devices already exist, many early entrants into the IoT world fail to redesign the product to allow for its newly added connectivity. Fortunately, there are a number of compact modules available for networking technologies that will fit in a manufacturer’s existing products.

These small modules are different though. Some modules are surface mount, others through-hole or pin-header and some still use a specialized mating connector. Also, how the network connector or antenna connector are integrated into the product vary from module to module. Designers must consider the space they have available on their circuit boards and/or in the product’s enclosures to allow whatever technology selected to be used in existing designs.

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>  For more information, please call Grid Connect Inc. at +1 (630) 245-1445, or email us at iot@gridconnect.com.

10 Internet of Things (IoT) Design Considerations: Features and User Interface

3. Features

The IoT allows companies to add features to their product that were never possible before. These features have a wide range of benefits and functions including automatic software updates (over-the-air), smart home and office connectivity, reminders for maintenance, special offers, recall notices and upgrades and remote or local access and control. It is also important for designers to work with their marketing team to be sure the features desired by marketing are not limited by the hardware and networking technologies selected by the engineers.

These features extend new benefits to manufacturers as well. The features that consumers use can provide manufacturers with valuable insight to their products and applications of those products. For example, washing machine may have 20 different functions on it, but because it is connected, the manufacturer can learn which functions the consumer uses and why and then improve the washer’s product design over time. This same connected washing machine can also email or call its owner to let them know when a part is starting to fail and needs to be fixed before a problem arises. These new features also open the manufacturer to new revenue streams presented by the data collected from the smart device. A company that sells a connected washing machine can sell data on detergent use to the companies that carry those products so that they can have better information on their customer as well.

4. User Interface

Today’s consumers and business owners expect multiple ways to access and control the world around them. How are your buyers going to interface with your product? Options are numerous and range from using a smart home panel or gateway to an on-product LCD/LED display that can be paired with LEDs or push buttons. In addition, apps to monitor and control connected devices can be web-based or available for on-the-go consumers with smart phones. The type of product and its possible use-cases are important considerations when designing a product that can communicate information to its user.

Wi-Fi-enabled IoT devices may have the ability to act as a soft access point (soft AP) to allow a user to “join” its network locally with a smart phone, laptop or tablet. Soft APs make product LED/LCD displays unnecessary since the screen of the connected device will serve the same purpose.

Using a soft AP does not preclude the module from also connecting to the Internet and cloud-based services with some Wi-Fi modules. This dual-mode is very attractive because the user can access the product remotely and locally, depending on the features and use-cases for the product.

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>  For more information, please call Grid Connect Inc. at +1 (630) 245-1445, or email us at iot@gridconnect.com.

10 Internet of Things (IoT) Design Considerations: Cost and Network

1. Cost

Connecting products to the Internet of Things (IoT) is essential to manufacturers looking to stay competitive within their industry. Adding IoT capabilities gives consumers more features. It also allows the manufacturer to stay connected with their customer while discovering new product use cases and applications that open them up to new revenue streams. These added benefits for both parties come with a cost though. Connected devices come with higher manufacturing costs but can also be sold with a higher price tag as well.

Wi-Fi and Ethernet connections can be added to products for less than $10 in bill of materials costs. Other technologies, such as ZigBee, Z-Wave and Bluetooth, can be added for a lower price but may require a separate bridge device to get that device on the Internet to access Cloud services.

2. Network

Manufacturers have many hardware and software options when it comes to network technology for their IoT-enabled products. Some devices can be directly connected to the Internet using networking such as Ethernet and Wi-Fi, which are based on the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP). Other products may use wireless technologies; some of which include TCP/IP, but in the end will require a “gateway” to convert the chosen network to either Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Some of the many technologies available include:

10 IoT Design Considerations - Network Technology

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>  For more information, please call Grid Connect Inc. at +1 (630) 245-1445, or email us at iot@gridconnect.com.

10 Factors when deciding between Industrial and Consumer Networking Devices

1.  Protection against solid foreign objects

What solid foreign objects are a part of your operational atmosphere?  Will your device need to be dust tight, protected against wires, or not protected at all?  If maintenance is not an option due to distance or inaccessibility, then you might need to consider what objects can find their way into your devices enclosure.

2.  Protection against water

This is very important in an outdoor application.  You want your device to be able to withstand rain.  Also what if you need your device to be submerged in water, or need to be able to hose down the device when cleaning an industrial area?  These are all conditions that need to be considered when determining which device to go with.

3.  Protection against oil, coolant, and corrosive agents

Hazardous materials can limit the range of products applicable for use.  Without a doubt, you need to have an industrial product for protection against oil, coolant, and other corrosive agents that might be in that operational atmosphere.

4.  Temperature range

There are typically two temperature ranges to consider in the specifications of a product: operational temperature and storage temperature.  Industrial products tend to have wider ranges for both of these.  If you need to store or use a device in an extreme temperature, you would want to use an industrial device.

5.  Durability

Some applications require a tolerance for impact or fast motion.  Some tests that are done on industrial devices include stationary vibration, shock, and vertical free-fall.  Some devices are also given an impact rating from 0 to 20.0 Joules.

6.  Surge protection

Surge protection ratings specify the protection level electrical devices have from voltage spikes.  In certain conditions components need to be able to withstand large spikes in voltage.  Industrial devices tend to have a higher range of tolerable AC and DC voltage spikes.

7.  Electromagnetic response

In many applications multiple electronics are in the same confined area.  Some of which might have motors, or other components that create EMF.  It is important, in this case, that your device can tolerate different electromagnetic conditions.  Industrial devices have higher electromagnetic resistance than consumer devices.

8.  Power supply

Consumer products are usually powered with a wall plug.  Industrial products are often powered in parallel to each other.  They share power supplies, rather than having a dedicated power supply for each unit.  Some have redundant power inputs that are used with redundant power supplies.

9.  Enclosure mounting

Many consumer devices are designed to be set on a desk or other flat surface and do not include any mounting options.  Industrial products include mounting options such as DIN Rail Mounting and Panel Mounting.

10.  Longevity

Most industrial products in an industrial application would be functional approximately 3 to 5 times longer than a consumer device in normal IT application.