Ultra-Low-Power Wireless Networking

Recently semiconductor manufacturers like Intel and members of the Bluetooth consortium have been working on reference circuit designs for Bluetooth and WiFi network hardware that is designed around reduced power consumption and small circuit footprint. They will still have the same power output as current-generation wireless-network devices.

Ozmo and Intel are now looking at using the physical layer standards of WiFi beyond the local area network. They are looking at competing with Wireless USB and Bluetooth by using it as a “personal area network” or linking peripherals, typically user-interface peripherals, to a computing device. Their idea is that if a computing device like a laptop, mobile phone or portable media player has WiFi functionality for network access, the same WiFi electronics can be used for connection to wireless peripherals. It is in a similar sense where one uses a Bluetooth-capable laptop computer and uses that Bluetooth functionality for connection to a mobile phone as well as using a Bluetooth mouse.

Initially this technology will work as a way of allowing gadgets like mobile phones and MP3 players that have Bluetooth or WiFi functionality to work for longer sessions without “running out of juice” or needing to spend significant amounts of time being hooked up to external power. It could even lead to the feasibility of running this class of devices on commonly-available batteries like AA alkaline batteries. In the case of “small-form-factor” devices like watches or key-fob / card-size remote controls, they could be able to benefit from WiFi or Bluetooth technologies while running for their expected battery life of at least 3 months on one or two “button-cell” batteries.

Subsequently, the technology will allow the WiFi LAN technology to be considered useful for device control subsystems like handheld or key-fob remote controls and control / display units that are part of any building control and security application. Such devices could then be able to run on the same power quota as devices of this class based on current technology i.e at least 6 months on a set of 2-4 AA or AAA alkaline batteries or 1-2 “button cells” rather than manufacturer-specific rechargeable battery packs that require the device to live in a charging cradle. This can give RF-based remote control the ability to work in a home network that is optimised for the building. It also permits one to design a network device that has only a wired (Ethernet or HomePlug powerline) network connection but can exchange control signals with an optional WiFi-based controller that works through the wireless home network hosted by the wireless router that the device is connected to using a wired network connection. Similarly, a central HVAC system could use one or more wireless-linked temperature sensors to gain a proper measurement of house temperature instead of referring to the thermostat located in the hallway or kitchen.

As we se more of the semiconductor manufacturers and the wireless networking standards bodies work on the ultra-low-power wireless client device, there could be many new applications for WiFi and Bluetooth being made real and a huge gateway of innovation could open up.

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