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M2M Combo Chip: In the Driver’s Seat for Reducing Cost in Automation Industry

Thu, 04/18/2013 - 9:52am
Satish Melukadavan, Vice President, Product Design, Redpine Signals Inc., M2MCombo, M2M communications, machine-to-machine communications, M2M cloud applications, automation industry

M2M functional block diagram. Courtesy: Redpine SignalsRedpine Signals introduces the M2MCombo with 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth dual mode, and ZigBee fully integrated into a single SoC.

The era of the Internet began in 1980s by networking organizations like the military, government agencies, corporate, and universities. If we talk to any user from that time, they wouldn’t have the slightest clue of what the future of this technology would be. Technology evolved and we started seeing innovation in the second generation with developed applications like email (AOL) and web browsers (Netscape). This was the turning point that helped harness the power of networked information for meaningful exchange between the entities.

Since then it has been a rollercoaster ride, where the third generation is referred to as the networking of humans socially and professionally (LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter). The Internet of Things represents the fourth generation, which is basically “networking every device of interest in order to control, monitor, and provide real-time responses.” This also means automation on a big scale, where machines have to talk to each other, observe, analyze the data and prepare response.

Redpine Signals (San Jose, CA) is enabling the fourth generation “Internet of Everything” by creating solutions for Machine to Machine (M2M) communications. Redpine Signals has several years of expertise and patents in low power wireless technologies, which are needed in the automation industry to connect devices and harness useful data in industrial, healthcare, transportation, building, energy, home automation, and retail applications.

Introduction to M2M

M2M is an important function of facilitating the next generation of Internet of Everything. The application use cases range from monitoring soil moisture content in the field, to controlling lights, and looking at human vitals. All these monitoring points are called sensor nodes, since they need to sense temperature, humidity, power, blood pressure, and pulse.

The scale of automation that is required is based on a number of things that need monitoring and control. Generally, there are several of these sensor nodes that need to be networked.

The sensor data is aggregated at a gateway to enable M2M communications. In this article, we will take a look at the costs associated with different technology solutions and how Redpine Signals' M2MCombo helps in cutting back the costs.

Wired vs Wireless Costs

Wired technologies require additional hubs, switches, and cabling. Most of the industrial and building automation environments are difficult places to route cables. The installation needs special conduits to be built, and cabling can be very costly. The additional hardware requirements and the scalability of the solution add to the deployment costs.

Wireless connectivity technologies, like M2MCombo reduce the capital expenditure (CAPEX) by removing the requirements of additional supporting hardware and installation costs. The ease of deployment, scalability, and cost makes wireless the number one choice for different verticals under M2M and the Internet of Things marketplace. 

Integrated vs. Discrete Chip Manufacturing

The M2MCombo integrates three such wireless connectivity technologies – WiFi, BT dual mode (classic and low energy), as well as Zigbee into a single chip. All of us understand that discrete devices or components are costlier than integrated devices. This kind of integration is made possible due to Moore’s Law.

Moore’s Law states that due to process improvements, the number of transistors that could be placed on a chip doubled every 18 months keeping the costs of manufacturing the same. That means three of wireless technologies are integrated into M2MCombo at a much lower cost than the total costs of manufacturing three discrete chips. This drastically decreases the costs of M2M solutions to be used in the Internet of Things verticals.

Software Research & Development

The other costs associated with discrete solutions are the design costs, which are higher than integrated solutions. The M2M marketplace is a mix of verticals, and each vertical has a customized design requirement. The software layers include firmware, the hardware abstraction layer (HAL), and the upper application layer. APIs need to be developed for each of the technologies separately.

This increases development and validation costs of the solution. The integrated M2MCombo software development costs are reduced due to the common HAL layer design approach and the application layer API’s, which can be written once and shared by these different application profiles that target IoT verticals; for example, M2MCombo supports profiles like Smart Energy Profile (SEP 2.0), which specifically targets smart energy applications.

Discrete Design Research & Certification

Developers in the automation industry are not specialists in designing wireless technologies. They focus their expertise on their core solutions without investing their effort in the integration of multiple chips to create a completely certified, wireless solution. The certifications are not only costly, but any hurdles faced during certification would need a redesign of the system.

Vital signs monitoring device using M2MCombo chip. Courtesy: Redpine SignalsThe Redpine M2MCombo takes off the hardware design complexity load by providing a certified module consisting of a combination of wireless technologies. This drives down the cost of hardware design and the fully certified solution.

WiFi vs Cellular Gateway OPEX Advantage

The front end sensor nodes are powered by ultra-low power technologies like Zigbee and Bluetooth Low Energy, and in some cases WiFi. The aggregator, which collects the data and relays it over the Internet, is powered by WiFi or cellular gateways. The usage model of the M2MCombo WiFi gateway, along with deployed WiFi infrastructure around the globe, brings down the OPEX, as data communications over cellular is costlier.

Applications, like the energy industry, use Zigbee or proprietary low power technologies to enable sensor networks. The industry uses a separate aggregator and gateway to collect the mesh-networked sensor data in order to enable IP connectivity to thr Internet. This Internet connectivity helps enable M2M cloud applications for real-time monitoring, alerts, and responses. With discrete wireless cellular gateway, and enabling cloud solution on the gateway, the total cost of the solution is considerably high. When designed in, the M2MCombo can serve both the functionalities of low power sensor nodes, as well as a gateway to the Internet.

The cloud applications are easily enabled, and embedded functionality is designed as a feature of the M2MCombo. This helps bring down the design complexity and total cost of the solution.

Low Power & Higher Range feature

Wireless technologies like Zigbee and Bluetooth provide ultra-low power advantage for M2M verticals, but these technologies are limited in range. The data transfer speeds they offer are also limited, and result in excessive battery drain for transferring larger volumes of data. By integrating WiFi technology, the verticals can now have the advantage of low power as well as a higher range.

WiFi itself can operate in low power modes, and it offers higher battery life than other technologies – more so when larger amounts of data need to be transferred. To increase the range of a ZigBee only solution, more sensor nodes need to be added into the mesh network. This discrete addition of nodes adds to the cost of the total solution. The combination of ultra-low power and higher range at low cost is very disruptive in M2M verticals and the Internet of Things marketplace.

Bill of Materials & Design Complexity

Applications like thermostats and smart meters, representing home automation and energy industries, require a combination of WiFi, BT, and Zigbee technologies. Today, a lot of designs uses discrete components, which drive up the bill of materials costs. The use cases need both the technologies to work together making discrete solutions complex. The design complexity costs are still higher. The M2MCombo solution, being highly integrated, brings down the bill of materials and design complexity costs.

Conclusion

Redpine Signal’s M2MCombo technology combines three critical wireless technologies: WiFi, BT dual mode, and Zigbee with complete support of application profiles like SEP, BT profiles. This helps in scaling the solution to different Internet of Things and M2M verticals. The M2MCombo cost advantage is attributed to manufacturing, software development, hardware design complexity, certification tests; WiFi gateway usage vs cellular model; cloud application enablement costs; bill of materials, and multiple features and functionality usage model costs. For an automation industry addressing the M2M and the Internet of Things verticals, the M2MCombo helps reduce the CAPEX, OPEX, and R&D costs.

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