Successful Endeavours - Electronics Designs That Work!

Nanosheets Enable 5nm Transistor Technology

It was less than a year ago that we covered Nanowires Enable FinFET Successor which looked at the use of Nanowires to create transistors and improve on FinFET technology which had become the primary transistor construction technology for complex semiconductors. This was using 8nm Nanowires and was expected to be the next generation of transistor technology.

Now IBM have announced a new breakthrough using Nanosheets to create 5nm transistors. And this is likely to completely take over the role that Nanowires were expected to fulfill. Here is how they did it.

The primary breakthrough is to take the vertical fins of the FinFET and turn them into horizontal Nanosheets as shown below.

5nm stacked Nanosheet transistor structure

5nm stacked Nanosheet transistor structure

And a photograph looks like this.

Nanosheet Transistor

Nanosheet Transistor

For a more complete description of the technology, this video covers some of the details on why this will lead to a scalable production process.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Holograms

Holograms are the product of Holography. This sounds rather self referencing. You can think of this as recording light the way you record sound. So you can have monophonic sound or full surround sound. A 3D Hologram allows you to see the original object from different directions as you move around it even though it is no longer present.

We have all seen futuristic movies where a 3D rendering of someone appears as if it was the person really there. And this is one of the goals of 3D Holograms. So it is exciting to see some breakthroughs in this area being pioneered in Australia at RMIT University.

This is also a good example of collaboration, something we don’t see enough of in Australia.

You can read the full story at World’s Thinnest Hologram Promises 3D Images on Our Mobile Phones.

3D Hologram

3D Hologram

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Putting Light to Work

Light is a really interesting thing. It has so many different aspects. And it took us a long time to work out exactly how it functioned. And in many ways that is still an ongoing process. So this post is a brief survey of some recent advances in our understanding of light, how to use it, and how to generate it.

Extracting Energy from Light

Recent advances in Quantum Dots have taken us one step closer to improving our extracting of energy from light and Solar Cells continue to improve.

Quantum Dot Solar Energy Conversion from Windows

New record for Solar Cell efficiency

Interactive chart of Solar Cell technologies and inefficiencies

The chart below is from the link above and shows that the fastest improving Solar Cell technologies (the 2 steepest red lines) are Perovskite Solar Cells and Quantum Dot Solar Cells. Click to get a larger version. Or go to the interactive link where you can get more detail for each dot.

Solar Cell Efficiencies - By Time And Technology

Solar Cell Efficiencies – By Time And Technology

And for a good summary of PV (PhotoVoltaic) technologies the link below provides a useful guide.

What makes a good PV Technology

So apart from turning the light in electricity, what else can we do with light?

Light for Communication

Light is also useful as a communications tool. And recent advances in Quatum Dot management of light means it could hold the key to higher levels of computing power in the future, as well as more secure communications.

Quantum Dots set speed record for switching

Phototonic Hypercrystals improve light control

Photonic Hypercrystals

Photonic Hypercrystals

Saucer Shaped Quantum Dots improve LASER brightness

2 steps closer to a Quantum Internet

The last link is particularly interesting because it involved entangling photons at a distance. And the first experiments have already been successful.

Quatum Entangled Photon Communications

Quantum Entangled Photon Communications

But is there more?

Other uses of light

As it happens, yes there is.

Nanoscale structure purifies water using light

Artificial Photosynthesis extracts CO2

So this remains a very busy space.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Printed Electronics

Way back in 2011 we looked at the state of Printed Electronics and concluded this was a rapidly emerging area of Technology and had been since the previous look at The Future of Low Cost Electronics Manufacture in 2009. It has been a while so what has happened since then?

Printed Electronics

Printed Electronics

This is another guest post by Andrew Walla.

Andrew Walla

Andrew Walla

Printed Electronics Overview

Rapid prototyping, also referred to as 3D printing or additive manufacturing is the process of building objects or devices by building up layer by layer [1]. It has been identified as a potentially disruptive technology in the manufacturing industry in the coming years and is particularly well suited to provide benefits to technologies that operate on smaller scales of production [2]. New manufacturing paradigms, such as direct manufacturing (directly printing the sold goods) and home manufacturing (providing the capability for consumers to produce parts themselves) are set to change the way that small manufacturing businesses operate and significantly increase the level of competition in the industry [3].

This post will discuss the manufacturing technique of printing – a technology whose origins date back more than five centuries [4] and in this time a number of different printing methods have been developed. Successive layers are generally printed onto a substrate either by direct contact; via an impression cylinder (such as in flexographic, graviture or offset printing), deposited via a stencil (screen printing); or directly deposited onto the substrate (for example, inkjet printing, aerosol-jet printing or organic vapor-jet printing). Of these technologies, inkjet printing is particularly well suited to rapid prototyping and low volume manufacturing due to its high customisability, relatively high resolution and relatively low set-up cost [1].

Inkjet printed electronics differs to conventional inkjet printing in that the deposited substances need to exhibit desired electronic behaviours. A common method to achieve this is to intersperse the ink (a solvent) with nano-particles (small particles with controlled sizes, typically in the order of nano-meters) with desired conductive, dielectric or semiconducting characteristics. The printed substance might be treated post printing in order to evaporate the solvent and/or facilitate a chemical change in the nano-particles. Examples of such treatment include thermal curing [5], curing by ultraviolet light [6], laser sintering [7], e-beam sintering [8], chemical sintering [9] or plasma sintering [10].

Current research efforts are focusing on improving the printing and post-processing technologies available [10-12], improved interconnects [13] and vias [14], improved semiconductors, and printing under less stringent conditions. Examples include printing conductors at room temperature [6] and printing elements such as transistors [15] and diodes [16] with ever increasing performance characteristics. It is forecast that these improvements will continue for some time, as the fastest known inkjet printed transistor has an operating speed of around 20MHz [17-18]. (This is several orders of magnitude behind the capability of existing silicon chip technology.) Researchers are also working on developing transistor characteristics other than maximum frequency. For example, inkjet printing technology has been used to produce flexible and transparent transistors [19].

For those looking to predict where printed electronics will have the greatest future impact, it may pay to think outside the box. In the authour’s opinion, inkjet printing technology is likely to play a larger role in enabling new applications than it is to replace existing electronic technology. It is unlikely that a device with the functionality of a smartphone will be printed anytime soon, but perhaps the capability of printing your own solar panels is closer than you think.

[1] N. Saengchairat, T. Tran and C.-K. Chua, “A review: additive manufacturing for active electronic components,” Virtual and Physical Prototyping, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 31-46, 2017.
[2] A. O. Laplume, B. Petersen and J. M. Pearce, “Global value chains from a 3D printing perspective,” Journal of International Business Studies, vol. 47, pp. 595-609, 2016.
[3] T. Rayna and L. Striukova, “From rapid prototyping to home fabrication: How 3D printing is changing business model innovation,” Technological Forecasting & Social Change, vol. 102, pp. 214-224, 2016.
[4] S. H. Steinberg, Five hundred years of printing, Maryland: Courier Dover Publications, 2017.
[5] N. Graddage, T.-Y. Chu, H. Ding, C. Py, A. Dadvand and Y. Tao, “Inkjet printed thin and uniform dielectrics for capacitors and organic thin film transistors enabled by the coffee ring effect,” Organic Electronics, vol. 29, pp. 114-119, 2016.
[6] G. McKerricher, M. Vaseem and A. Shamim, “Fully inkjet-printed microwave passive electronics,” Microsystems & Nanoengineering, vol. 3, p. 16075, 2017.
[7] S. H. Ko, H. Pan, C. P. Grigoropoulos, C. K. Luscombe, J. M. J. Fréchet and D. Poulikakos, “All-inkjet-printed flexible electronics fabrication on a polymer substrate by low-temperature high-resolution selective laser sintering of metal nanoparticles,” Nanotechnology, vol. 18, pp. 1-8, 2007.
[8] Y. Farraj, M. Bielmann and S. Magdassi, “Inkjet printing and rapid ebeam sintering enable formation of highly conductive patterns in roll to roll process,” The Royal Society of Chemistry, vol. 7, pp. 15463-15467, 2017.
[9] S. Wunscher, R. Abbel, J. Perelaer and U. S. Schubert, “Progress of alternative sintering approaches of inkjet-printed metal inks and their application for manufacturing of flexible electronic devices,” Journal of Materials Chemistry C, pp. 10232-10261, 2014.
[10] Y.-T. Kwon, Y.-I. Lee, S. Kin, K.-J. Lee and Y.-H. Choa, “Full densification of inkjet-printed copper conductive tracks on a flexible substrate utilizing a hydrogen plasma sintering,” Applied Surface Science, vol. 396, pp. 1239-1244, 2017.
[11] J.-J. Chen, G.-Q. Lin, Y. Wang, E. Sowade, R. R. Baumann and Z.-S. Feng, “Fabrication of conductive copper patterns using reactive inkjet printing followed by two-step electroless plating,” Applied Surface Science, vol. 396, pp. 202-207, 2017.
[12] H. Ning, R. Tao, Z. Fang, W. Cai, J. Chen, Y. Zhou, Z. Zhu, Z. Zeng, R. Yao, M. Xu, L. Wang, L. Lan and J. Peng, “Direct patterning of silver electrodes with 2.4 lm channel length,” Journal of Colloid and Interface Science, vol. 487, pp. 68-72, 2017.
[13] T. Ye, L. Jun, L. Kun, W. Hu, C. Ping, D. Ya-Hui, C. Zheng, L. Yun-Fei, W. Hao-Ran and D. Yu, “Inkjet-printed Ag grid combined with Ag nanowires to form a transparent hybrid electrode for organic electronics,” Organic Electronics, vol. 41, pp. 179-185, 2017.
[14] T.-H. Yang, Z.-L. Guo, Y.-M. Fu, Y.-T. Cheng, Y.-F. Song and P.-W. Wu, “A low temperature inkjet printing and filling process for low resistive silver TSV fabrication in a SU-8 substrate,” 30th IEEE International conference in Micro Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS), 2017.
[15] J. Roh, H. Kim, M. Park, J. Kwak and C. Lee, “Improved electron injection in all-solution-processed n-type organic field-effect transistors with an inkjet-printed ZnO electron injection layer,” Applied Surface Science, vol. 420, pp. 100-104, 2017.
[16] K. Y. Mitra, C. Sternkiker, C. Martínez-Domingo, E. Sowade, E. Ramon, J. Carrabina, H. L. Comes and R. R. Baumann, “Inkjet printed metal insulator semiconductors (MIS) diodes for organic and flexible electronic application,” Flexible and Printed Electronics, vol. 2, no. 1, p. 015003, 2017.
[17] X. Guo, Y. Xu, S. Ogier, T. N. Ng, M. Caironi, A. Perinot, L. Li, J. Zhao, W. Tang, R. A. Sporea, A. Nejim, J. Carrabina, P. Cain and F. Yan, “Current Status and Opportunities of Organic Thin-Film Transistor Technologies,” IEEE Transactions on Electron Devices, vol. 54, no. 5, pp. 1906-1921, 2017.
[18] A. Perinot, P. Kshisagar, M. A. Malfindi, P. P. Pompa, R. Fiammengo and M. Caironi, “Direct-written polymer field-effect transistors operating at 20MHz,” Scientific Reports, vol. 6, pp. 1-9, 2016.
[19] L. Basiricò, P. Cosseddu, B. Faboni and A. Bonfiglio, “Inkjet printing of transparent, flexible, organic transistors,” Thin Solid Films, vol. 520, pp. 1291-1294, 2011.

 

 

Andrew Walla, RF Engineer, Successful Endeavours

So there has been some substantial change but we aren’t yet at the point where this type of Electronics Design and Manufacture has begun to significantly disrupt the mainstream industry. But I can imagine the day when some of what I do now can be printed and tested right now on my desk instead of having to go through PCB Design, PCB Manufacture and Electronics Prototyping first. Can’t wait for Printed Electronics to become mainstream.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

 

 

Australian Manufacturing Boom

I’m really pleased to announce that the growth in Australian Manufacturing last year was the biggest since the GFC. Australian Manufacturing Exports now exceed 2009 levels and it was the 2nd largest jobs growth sector in the entire Australian economy.

You can probably tell I’m pretty excited about that.

Here are the statistics:

  • 40,000 new Australian Manufacturing Jobs in the past year
  • $100B in Australian Manufacturing Exports in the past year
  • $8B in raw Australian Manufacturing profits in the past quarter

And as covered in I Nearly Retired, Australian Manufacturing it has been expanding nearly every month for the past 22 months. I’m looking forward to August when it will be 2 straight years.

Australia Manufacturing PMI 2015-2017 shows growth the whole way

Australia Manufacturing PMI 2015-2017 shows growth the whole way

Manufacturer’s Monthly also covered this in Australian manufacturing industry rebounding.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Introducing Andrew Walla

This is a guest blog article from Andrew Walla who is working with us and an expert in Radio Frequency Engineering (RF), particularly focusing on small form factor Antennas. So the emphasis is on compact antennas which fits in with our recent emphasis on the Internet of Things (IoT).

Andrew Walla

Andrew Walla

A couple of other caveats. Notable omissions include the pioneering works of Faraday, Orsted and Gauss. For those wanting to dig deeper, the first wireless transmission was by Loomis in 1866, long before Hertz‘ formal experiments were published. The history of wireless television, the Internet and more complex antenna arrangements such as phased arrays has largely ignored in order to keep this brief. And like Analog Electronics , RF and Antennas are a specialised area that is not easy to understand.

And for those who would like to be able to visualize what the final paragraph below means, this animated GIF might help.

Dipole transmitting antenna

Dipole antenna transmitting

The History of Antennas

In his seminal 1864 paper [1], James Clerk Maxwell presented a set of twenty equations (condensed into a set of four vector equations by Oliver Heaviside in 1888 [2]). In this work, Maxwell predicted the existence of electromagnetic waves; a phenomenon which would later be experimentally verified by Heinrich Hertz in a series of papers published in the late 1880s [3].

Guglielmo Marconi was influenced by such findings and worked to extended the field of research; he successfully demonstrated the ability of electromagnetic waves to transmit information over large distances in 1895 and in 1901 he was the first to wirelessly transmit information across the Atlantic Ocean [4]. While Marconi’s research focussed on transmitting information in the form of Morse code, Reginald Fressenden took the challenge upon himself to utilise this technology to transmit the human voice, a challenge which he successfully conquered in 1900 [5]. In 1920, the world’s first commercial radio station began operation (although the title of ‘first commercial radio station’ is contested by many scholars on the basis of differing criteria being used to define the title). This was followed by a rapid spread in radio broadcasting throughout the world in the 1920’s and 1930’s [6, 7].

In the century to follow came television, paging, mobile telephones and wireless internet. The number of wirelessly communicating devices deployed in the world now exceeds the world population [8]. More than one billion such devices are being produced each year and the rate of production is growing [9]. All these devises have an essential element in common that enables their functionality, the antenna.

An antenna is a device to transform a guided wave (a signal inside the circuitry of an electronic device) into a radiated wave (electromagnetic radiation propagating through space). From Maxwell’s equations, we know that an alternating current will emit radiation. We also know that an electromagnetic field will induce a current in a wire. The purpose of an antenna is to act as a transducer between the wireless device and surrounding space, ensuring that the transformation between electromagnetic waves and circuit currents occurs with the desired level of efficiency [10, 11].

References below will assist with further research of this topic.
[1] J. C. Maxwell, “A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field,” Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London, vol. 155, pp. 459-512, 1865.
[2] O. Heaviside, “The electro-magnet effects of a moving charge,” The Electrician, vol. 22, pp. 147-148, 1888.
[3] H. Hertz, Electric Waves, London: Macmillan, 1893.
[4] G. C. Corazza, “Marconi’s history,” Proceedings of the IEEE, vol. 86, no. 7, pp. 1307-1311, 1998.
[5] J. S. Belros, “Reginald Aubrey Fessenden and the birth of wireless telephony,” IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, vol. 44, no. 2, pp. 38-47, 2002.
[6] W. J. Severin, “Commercial vs. non-commercial radio dring broadcasting’s early years,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 22, no. 4, pp. 491-504, 1978.
[7] J. E. Baudino and J. M. Kittross, “Broadcasting’s oldest stations: An examination of four claimants,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 61-83, 1977.
[8] GSMEA Intelligence, “GMEI 2017 Global Mobile Engagement Index,” GMSA Intelligence, London, 2017.
[9] T. Nguyen, J. T. McDonald and W. B. Glisson, “Exploitation and Detection of a Malicious Mobile Application,” Proceedings of the 50th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, 2017.
[10] A. K. Skrivervik, J. -F. Zürcher, O. Staub and J. R. Mosig, “PCS Antenna Design: The Challenge of Miniaturization,” IEEE Antennas and Propagation Magazine, vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 12-27, 2001.
[11] S. M. Wentworth, Applied electromagnetics: early transmission lines approach, John Wiley, 2007.

Andrew Walla, RF Engineer, Successful Endeavours

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Manufacturing Profits you can retire on

I was talking with one of our past clients a little while ago. They told me they had a problem. They said, “Ray, I nearly retired“! So I asked them what that meant. And they explained.

We had developed a product for them a decade ago. The total project cost then around $50,000 as it included both the product Electronics Design, Embedded Software and also the Automated Test Equipment (ATE) for Production Test which also had an Electronics Design, Embedded Software and Windows PC ATE Software component to it. And from that product they made nearly $2,000,000 in retained profit. From their perspective, nearly enough to retire on. And since they own the company it is theirs to distribute as they please. Now they wanted to do it again. So we are onto another very exciting Product Development for them. Can’t say any more about that yet.

So I though about the value proposition here. The maths says:

2,000,000 / 50,000 = 40:1 Return On Investment (ROI).

And that ignores the total value of the economic activity and profits their suppliers and customers have made.

Return On Investment (ROI)

Return On Investment (ROI)

Manufacturing Spearheads Economic Growth

The Victorian Government estimates that every $1 spent with a business like Successful Endeavours, there is $100 of overall economic value generated for the state. Makes you wonder why they don’t invest themselves? They used to through things like the Technology Voucher Program but all of that is currently shut down.

And of course there are the jobs this generates. Again, Victorian Government estimates are that every job in manufacturing creates another 5 jobs around it in the supply chain and supporting businesses. That is the highest ratio of any industry.

So what’s not to love about Australian Manufacturing! Let’s look at the benefits:

  • creates fundamental value (so the service sector has something to leverage off)
  • creates jobs and then more indirect jobs than any other industry so it is great for employment
  • creates profits

And far from being in decline, the Australian Manufacturing PMI has been in growth most of the past  2 years so that is also really positive for the overall economy. Check out he graph below from the Australian Industry Group (AIG).

Australia Manufacturing PMI 2015-2017 shows growth the whole way

Australia Manufacturing PMI 2015-2017 shows growth the whole way

The above graph was created by Trading Economics. They provide a a useful way to use the AIG Australian Manufacturing PMI figures to get reports in the format you want. If you explore it more deeply, you can see that we took a hit to Australian Manufacturing during the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) but it has been an upward trend from then on.

AIG

AIG

Go Australian Manufacturing!

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

5G for IoT

Thanks to the team at VDC Research who compile some very useful information on Embedded and IoT (Internet of Things) trends. It is free to join and the deal is that you contribute to their surveys in order to get access to some reports for free. They also do detailed reports for business purposes which are available for purchase.

VDC Research

VDC Research

The following 5G IoT Infographic was put together by them to show the progression of 5G cellular or Mobile Communications in terms of its impact in the Embedded Systems and IoT space. If you click on it you will get a cleaner version to look at and you’ll probably want to zoom in a bit.

5G IoT Infographic

5G IoT Infographic

I was interested to see that there are still no fully confirmed standards for 5G. And my previous post on Cellular IoT Communications shows this to be a trend where NB-IoT is still being ratified even though there are chip sets on the market. It is also sobering to think about where all the data will get stored as devices running Gb/sec data streams will have to be sending it somewhere. Big Data keeps getting bigger.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

LPWAN = Low Power Wide Area Network

LPWAN is typically thought about as cellular data networks but that involves a contradiction since cellular and low power are inherently in conflict with each other. For instance, a standard 3G or 4G cellular modem will have a peak current draw of up to 2A during transmission and needs to be carefully power managed if running from batteries. This has meant that a 10 year operating life from a primary cell battery either needs a huge primary cell or very infrequent communications. So what are the alternatives?

In IoT Versus M2M we looked at how the real benefit of IoT (Internet of Things) is that rather than a single Machine to Machine link being established, there are now multiple devices connected via shared web services and their combined data is being used to create extra value, and particularly if Big Data analytics is added to the mix.

SigFox Logo

SigFox Logo

LoRa Alliance

LoRa Alliance

There is also a lot of potential disruption in this. LoRa and SigFox are both looking to provide lower cost networks to replace dependency on cellular network operators for coverage and also address the power consumption problem. There is an excellent comparison of these 2 systems in SigFox versus LoRa. And both are trying to disrupt existing cellular network providers. An overall view at available at NB-IoT versus LoRa versus SigFox.

NB-IoT

Which introduces Narrow Band IoT or NB-IoT as it is now commonly abbreviated to. Just to continue the confusion of acronyms, it is also called CAT-NB and CAT-NB1. There is a detailed view of this technology and its likely long term adoption at NB-Iot is dead – Long live NB-IoT.

The summary is that NB-IoT is too late to market and requires too much equipment changeover to win the early adopter market, especially in the USA, but will win in the long term. In the interim there is a host of other options also being developed. The cellular network operators have realised, at least 5 years too late, that their business and technology models were both under attack simultaneously. This is a particularly dangerous form of disruption.

Hardware is now becoming available and China adoption of NB-IoT makes them the  main early adopter market.

 

Quectel BC95 NB-IoT Module

Quectel BC95 NB-IoT Module

u-blox SARA-N2 NB-IoT Module

u-blox SARA-N2 NB-IoT Module

Low Power Cellular

So if up until now, low power and cellular were not usually compatible concepts, what is changing to address that?

To reduce power consumption, you have to have one or more of the following:

  • reduce transmit power
  • increase receiver sensitivity
  • reduce transmit duration
  • increase transmit interval
  • reduce network registration time
  • reduce data rate

Some of these can be mutually exclusive. However the key elements that are working together is to reduce the data rate and use a modulation scheme that means the transmitter power can be reduced. LoRa does this very well and NB-IoT is looking to achieve a similar thing. There are trade-offs and the lower data rate for NB-IoT means it is best suited to very small packets. CAT-M1 will require less power for larger packets because the faster data rate means the transmit time is a lot shorter.

Low Cost Cellular

So we have looked at the power consumption angle. How about cost and business model. And there are 2 aspects to cost. There is the hardware cost and there is a the network operations cost. To reduce cost you have to do one or more of the following:

  • reduce silicon and software protocol stack complexity
  • high volume production allows economies of scale for hardware
  • increase the number of channels available in the network
  • increase the number of simultaneous connections in the network
  • reduce margins

Both SigFox and NB-IoT aim to make the end device hardware cost as low as possible. In the case of NB-IoT and CAT-M1 the channel bandwidth can be reduced and so the same bandwidth can support multiple devices instead of just one. The power level in the device transmitter is reduced by reducing the bandwidth and data rate. As an example, a CAT-M1 module has a peak transmitter current draw of 500mA which is a factor of 4 lower than CAT-1. So low cost and low power can go together very well.

The graph below shows how the various cellular standards relate to each other.

Cellular IoT standards and how they relate

Cellular IoT standards and how they relate

IoT Deployment Options

We have been using standard 3G/4G Cellular modems for our broadly distributed IoT offerings. As of the end of this month, we ship our first CAT-1 based offerings. These have the advantage of supporting both 4G with fall back to 3G. Although NB-IoT hardware is available now from both Quectel and u-blox, the networks in Australia don’t yet support it. And while NB-IoT is ideal for fixed location assets, we also do mobile systems so these need to be CAT-M1 once it is available.

CAT-M1 is expected to be available in Australia on the Telstra network around September 2017. I am also taking this as meaning that NB-IoT is 2018 or possibly even longer. So we plan to move to CAT-M1 as soon as it is available. The modules are expected to be available about the same time as the network upgrades.

Here are some CAT-1 and CAT-M1 offerings from Quectel and u-blox.

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel BG96 CAT-M1 Module

Quectel EC21 CAT-1 Module

Quectel EC21 CAT-1 Module

The Quectel EC21 is what we are deploying in our units later this month.

u-blox LARA-R2 CAT-1 Module

u-blox LARA-R2 CAT-1 Module

 

u-blox SARA-R404M CAT-M1 Module

u-blox SARA-R404M CAT-M1 Module

IoT Network Upgrades

Ericsson have announced the roll out plans for the Telstra Network CAT-M1 capability.

And Telstra have announced their own Telstra IoT Network Plans.

This is the overall Telstra road map. Summary:
CAT-1 now
CAT-M1 by September
NB-IoT sometime after that but no dates yet

Other carriers will follow although Vodafone are well placed to introduce NB-IoT first as they have Software Defined Radio base stations from Huawei and so can roll it out as a software update.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

Connect Expo

the Connect Expo is on each year around late March in Melbourne at the Exhibition and Convention Centre. I had gone to previous events but this was our first time as an exhibitor.

Connect Expo - Successful Endeavours

Connect Expo – Successful Endeavours

This was by far the best Connect Expo I have been to. The mix of software vendors, web platform vendors, component suppliers and specialist IT vendors was excellent and there was also a specific section for eHealth. We set up our own IoT Platform demonstration with a QR code you could scan with a phone and take you to a webpage showing real time (less than 5 second delay) updates to the status of a device on the stand. A simple demo of the Internet of Things in action.

We will definitely be going again next year.

A really good trend I noticed was several Software Testing companies represented in the mix. Testing to confirm software is working correctly is a very important part of delivering a high quality product and it was good to see this coming through at the industry level.

We also shared the stand with Minnovation who do data science and analytics so it was also good to see how rapidly that area is expanding.

Successful Endeavours specialise in Electronics Design and Embedded Software Development, focusing on products that are intended to be Made In Australia. Ray Keefe has developed market leading electronics products in Australia for more than 30 years. This post is Copyright © 2017 Successful Endeavours Pty Ltd.

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