For wireless technologies, the main task is to fulfil the specific requirements of an application and also remain future-proof at the same time. Choosing the right standard is crucial for ensuring the success of a networked product, which is why wireless technologies are making up an ever-larger proportion of EBV’s day-to-day business, particularly with regard to support and consultation. According to Dr Uros Mali, Director Segment Smart Sensing & Connectivity at EBV, customers not only need hardware to network their products, but also application- and market-related information on the various technologies. Furthermore, insight into current and future trends is becoming increasingly vital for future-proofing their products.
For which types of network does EBV generally offer solutions?
U. M.: At EBV, our customers can obtain semiconductors and increasingly also all-in-one modules for all different kinds of area networks. In addition, our portfolio contains body-area-network solutions such as near-field magnetic induction (NFMI) technology, which is entirely new on the market. In general, however, the product portfolio comprises solutions for a vast range of applications and wireless technologies.
Does the sheer variety of wireless standards actually make sense?
U. M.: Someone once said what was good about standards – the fact that there are simply so many for us to choose from. Eventually, time and the user will decide which technology will take the lead. Nevertheless, we need to admit that there are still applications for which not-so-widely adopted standards are a perfect fit.
Which wireless technologies are currently particularly exciting from your point of view?
U. M.: Technologies in the area of low-power wide-area (LPWA) networking solutions. We can really see a lot happening to do with Sigfox and LoRa, which will enable many new applications and create a “true” IoT. In parallel to Sigfox and LoRa, mobile-communication technologies will maintain their market share. 2G will disappear from the market sooner or later, although there is not yet a mobile-communication solution available with the same coverage. LTE NB-IoT and Cat M1 technologies are rapidly approaching, yet with no clear sign indicating which direction manufacturers should take. Both technologies offer many interesting features like a power-saving mode (PSM) and extended discontinuous reception mode (eDRX), which enables an application to be run on a single battery for more than ten years. Despite this, the lack of global, worldwide coverage is preventing immediate acceptance. With regard to both licensed and unlicensed bandwidth technologies, the big question is really which technology will eventually prevail on the market.
The requirements regarding cybersecurity are continuously increasing for wireless data transfer. What kind of solutions does the semiconductor industry offer to this problem?
U. M.: When it comes to cybersecurity, the discussion is mainly about the encryption of communication using various symmetric or asymmetric algorithms. In IoT applications, however, it is more important to ensure that the data is coming from the right device and that the integrity of the data is ensured; in other words, that the data at both the transmitter and receiver end is identical. The semiconductor industry offers a broad spectrum of solutions for this; from simple, low-cost and low-power authentication solutions through to trusted platform modules (TPMs). However, the two basic things that all true hardware security solutions have in common are, firstly, a highly secure hardware key storage and, secondly, cryptographic algorithms that run on the hardware.
How does EBV help manufacturers who perhaps have had little experience with electronics so far?
U. M.: For the ones with little or even no experience with wireless technologies, there are modules with integrated antennas and – most of the time – the ability to run user applications on the module as well. The customer only has to connect the sensors, the power pack, the power supply and combine the whole lot within a housing. This type of module comes with test reports and certificates, which enable the manufacturer to seamlessly certify the end product. EBV also appeals to such manufacturers with EBVChips solutions that support various wireless technologies. On the other hand, there are customers who have the resources to deal with the RF part of the design (e.g. antenna matching, antenna shape and layout), for whom a chipset-level integration is an ideal solution. In this case, the customer needs to take care of all of the RF tests and certifications. All of these extra requirements come with certain additional costs compared to module solutions, thus higher volumes are needed to break even. Of course, EBV can also assist manufacturers in finding third-party providers with the RF expertise required for a faster time-to-market.
You just mentioned EBVChips. What is it exactly that you provide in the field of wireless technologies?
U. M.: It’s true that most EBVChips products are related to wireless technologies. For example, with our EBVChip MAIA, we provide a solution whereby the production level of the wireless M-bus stack is available on a pre-certified module which has the ability to simultaneously run a user application. Many consumption-metering applications can now be seamlessly upgraded with wireless M-bus connectivity – including the open metering standard (OMS), which is in demand in many regions. Similarly, there is the EBVChip IRIS, which we also call “cloud-on-chip”. With this product, we offer Wi-Fi connectivity from the level of production up to the cloud. The customer does not lose any time integrating a comprehensive Wi-Fi stack or antenna design; instead, they can focus on their application.
Are any other EBVChips for wireless data transmission planned?
U. M.: The most recent EBVChips innovation called Heracles solves three common customer problems when dealing with mobile wireless connections: it integrates a 2G module, a SIM card and a pre-paid data package with roaming in 33 EU countries at a fixed price until 2025. The solution targets all applications which require a constant connection, yet only require a small amount of data to be transferred. The EBVChips family will be extended further, with solutions for LTE and upcoming connectivity standards yet to follow. These will optimise power consumption and include other features like a GNSS receiver. With that, our customers will be provided with future-proof mobile-communication solutions, complete with a pre-paid data package.