The market for smart, automated, and cloud-connected products continues to grow year-on-year, with IHS Markit forecasting the number of worldwide Internet of Things (IoT)-connected devices reaching 62 billion by the end of 2023. Many new product types are being enabled by innovative sensor technology developments and drastic improvements in processing capabilities. Consumers are adopting smart devices that promise to simplify their lives with smart locks or smart thermostats while businesses generate more productivity with smart warehousing and asset tracking. Manufacturers can reduce downtime with predictive maintenance solutions, and medical providers can be more effective through patient monitoring and hospital efficiency optimization.

These devices become even more powerful when connected to the Internet to add feature enhancements through cloud services. The introduction of machine learning and artificial intelligence can bring to light previously unforeseen insights. Anticipatory technology offers a world where things happen based on previous actions or expected needs. The underlying need is to have more and more connected devices and sensors installed across all aspects of our personal lives, offices, and manufacturing locations.

The Challenge

Although it may seem straightforward to install these devices to make this new world possible, there are significant challenges. Often, the best location for installing these devices is not always the most convenient for accessing power or Internet connectivity. Battery operation seems like the most obvious solution but a problem arises when considering how to obtain Internet connectivity for this type of device.

Wireless communication is a natural solution for Internet connectivity in battery-based systems since it allows for a great amount of freedom in device location; however, the downside to wireless communication is that the radio consumes a tremendously disproportionate amount of power and most often, more than all the other components in the IoT device. This necessitates changing batteries frequently or simply makes the product not feasible from an operational point of view.

The underlying reason for the massive power consumption is that the IQ radio architecture in most of today’s wireless devices has not changed much in the past 25 years. The IQ radio processes the wireless signal into in-phase and quadrature components, allowing it to be graphed much like using x and y coordinates to graph a data point on a Cartesian graph.

The RF transceiver consists mainly of analog circuits to transcode the analog radio signals to digital IQ components. Unfortunately, analog circuits are not as efficient as digital circuits. They also do not reap the benefits from CMOS process technology enhancements like devices based on digital circuits such as microprocessors. The IQ radio architectures were developed long before the need for battery-based wireless devices was conceived; hence, a new approach is required.

The Solution

A new wireless platform created by InnoPhase introduces a digital polar radio that solves the power issue. The radio design uses patented digital circuits to extract the data from the RF signal using polar rather than IQ coordinates. Amplitude and phase are used instead of in-phase and quadrature and the architecture is highly digital-based instead of analog. This provides a tremendous improvement in power consumption for wireless radios.

InnoPhase Talaria TWO™ Module 1010 (left) and 1011.

In a modern OFDM scheme, a polar radio is more efficient at processing RF signals. In the transmit section of the radio specifically, the polar transmitter is 3 dB more efficient than an IQ transmitter (or conversely, an IQ transmitter is 50% less efficient than a polar transmitter). And the efficiency gains are similar in the receiver section with the digital polar radio.

Wi-Fi is a wireless protocol that uses OFDM for its radio signal encoding. It was included in the original 802.11g standard and continues to be used in each new protocol update. The digital polar radio has been adapted to the Wi-Fi standard, implemented in its Talaria TWO SoC, and proven to reduce current consumption for Wi-Fi-connected clients by 50% or more. This is a major breakthrough for products such as smart locks where the device sits idly connected to the Wi-Fi network a vast majority of the time and only occasionally receives a message to lock or unlock the door.

In certain smart lock scenarios, it is entirely possible for the Wi-Fi radio to consume as much as 75% of the overall battery charge. Many assume, incorrectly, that running the motor circuit would consume most of the power in this system; however, by optimizing the Wi-Fi idle connected current consumption with the new radio chipset, the smart lock that once operated six months on batteries can now last more than a year.

Other products once inconceivable can now be a reality. New smart home automation products with cloud connectivity and motorized functionality can be implemented and powered using batteries. Remote sensors that gather data about a workplace environment and usage can be battery-powered and placed in the most useful location rather than close to line power. New sensors to capture machine vibration patterns can be mounted directly at the point of concern, providing the most beneficial information. Furthermore, these battery-based products will not require a network hub to transfer from one radio protocol to another; for example, Zigbee or BLE to Wi-Fi. They will be able to communicate directly with standard Wi-Fi routers and make a direct connection to the Internet.

The most interesting point about the Talaria TWO is that it uses what most would consider an old CMOS process technology, yet it competes head-to-head on Wi-Fi power consumption with chipsets that use much more modern CMOS technology. This validates the impact of the digital polar radio, which can put radio technology in line with Moore’s Law so it can experience the same type of improvements seen within other digital CMOS products. The low-power radio design will enable the acceleration of new connected IoT products for consumer, commercial, industrial, and medical markets.

This article was written by Rob McCormick, director of marketing at InnoPhase, San Diego, CA. For more information, visit here  .


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This article first appeared in the June, 2020 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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