Linnea Brush, Senior Research Analyst, Darnell Group
Wireless technologies are one of the few markets that could make it through the current economic crisis somewhat unscathed. Long associated with cellular communication and portable devices, wireless applications provide power supply opportunities from batteries, chargers, and adapters to energy systems and power management ICs.

Ultra-Low Power

Ultra-low-power (ULP) wireless technologies are primarily employed in applications that are not traditionally considered "portable," such as commercial building automation, medical monitoring, transportation and avionics, automatic meter reading, RFID, construction, and military. However, the power needs of ULP systems closely mirror those of portable devices, such as mobile phone handsets and MP3 players. As a result, emerging ULP applications are providing substantial growth opportunities for power management technologies traditionally associated with portable devices.

ULP wireless applications and portable applications are both low power, although ULP powering is significantly lower. Both usually use batteries. They rely on standards that vary by region and application, and both have varying ranges, data rates, and power requirements, depending on standards and applications. The same needs are driving both markets as well—energy efficiency, small form factors, reduced power requirements, and competition with "wired" systems.

The value-added possibilities that ULP technologies bring include bi-directionality, with data rates and range being particularly important. Network security is important, along with "real-time" monitoring and remote communication with the "host" system. The increasing need to comply with environmental regulations also provides an opportunity for ULP solutions, since they can almost always ensure such compliance.

Energy harvesting, small-format batteries, and power management ICs are technologies that will enable the commercial rollout of next-generation ultra-low-power electronic devices and systems, according to the just-released Darnell Group report, "Energy Harvesting, Micro Batteries & Power Management ICs: Market Forces and Demand Characteristics." Such devices are being deployed for wireless as well as wired systems such as mesh networks, sensor and control systems, micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS), radio frequency identification (RFID) devices, and so on.

The EnerChip™

Over the past year, a number of companies have introduced products that represent the commercial strides being made in the ULP wireless area. Cymbet Corp. announced the EnerChip™ CC CBC3112 and CBC3150 thin-film batteries with integrated battery management. The EnerChip CC internally combines several power system features: thin-film battery, charge pump with integrated DC-DC converter, supply supervisor, low-ripple charger, configurable switchover to battery when input power fails, supply voltage status signals, and operation from 2.5 to 5.5 Volts.

Similar Technical Needs
The EnerChip CC is targeted as a standby supply for microcontrollers, real-time clocks and SRAMs, wireless sensors and RFID tags, power bridging during exchange of main batteries, and energy harvesting with transducers such as inductive coils and piezoelectric beams. According to the company, the device is an "ideal" replacement for supercapacitors and coin cells in applications such as thermostats, hand-held devices, medical diagnostic equipment, and embedded computing systems.


Infinite Power Solutions (IPS) unveiled the THINERGY™ Application Development Platform (ADP). The ADP, coupled with IPS' THINERGY family of thin-film micro-energy cell MEC™ products, empowers designers to create new microelectronic applications, such as perpetually powered and deeply embedded systems. Previously, the barrier to the development of innovative microelectronic devices was the availability of a viable micro-energy storage solution in a small form factor. Now, companies in the active RFID, powered smart card, wireless sensor, medical device, consumer electronics, automotive, and military/aerospace markets have access to both volume-production-ready thin-film MECs and a powerful development platform.

IPS says the family of thin-film MECs delivers a "highly efficient, safe, rechargeable and powerful energy storage solution" in an extremely thin form factor—roughly the size of a postage stamp. The ADP evaluates and demonstrates its MEC performance advantages over competing solutions while powering the developer's application. To this end, the MEC's thinness, power, and long life are designed for integration into embedded applications, while the ADP enables the simultaneous development of energy harvesting solutions to create a new generation of autonomously powered micro-electronics systems.

The Enabler® LPP

Enfora, a global supplier of intelligent wireless networking solutions, announced the Enabler® Low Power Platform (LPP). This new platform provides developers with a wireless solution that can extend battery life from 30 days, for example, to as much as 18 months. With the ability to support and manage extended battery life, the Enabler LPP platform is purpose-built, supporting applications that track mobile enterprise assets, vehicle fleets, and a host of other equipment in a variety of vertical markets.

The Enabler LPP is a network edge wireless IP platform that combines global wide-area GSM/GPRS wireless and GPS location capabilities in an embeddable form factor that boasts a less than 10 uA system idle. The development tools and embedded software environment for the Enabler LPP bring together the key hardware and software elements required to enhance the rapid development of business critical applications. Designed to support a variety of wireless applications, including solutions for asset management, tracking, and remote monitoring and control, the Enabler LPP is part of the Enabler III family of embedded wireless platforms.