Internet of Things Connectivity Option Analysis: IEEE 802.15.4 technologies

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Originally released in 2003, IEEE 802.15.4 defines a physical layer (PHY) and media access control layer (MAC) on top of which others can build different network and application layers. The most well-known are ZigBee and 6LoWPAN. IEEE 802.15.4 defines operation in the 2.4 GHz band using DDSS to alleviate narrowband interferences, realizing a data rate of 250 kbps. However, IEEE 802.15.4 has a chip rate of 2 Mbps due to spreading. IEEE 802.15.4 also defines operation in sub-GHz bands, but has failed to take full advantage of these frequency bands: IEEE 802.15.4 specification only defines very low GFSK data rates, 20 kbps and 40 kbps, in these sub-GHz bands, and only allows a single channel in the European 868 MHz band (868.0 -868.6 MHz). These restrictions make the 2.4 GHz variants of IEEE 802.15.4 more attractive, accounting for their wider adoption to date.

IEEE 802.15.4g amendment entitled “Amendment 3: Physical Layer (PHY) Specifications for Low-Data-Rate, Wireless, Smart Metering Utility Networks”, was approved in March 2012. IEEE 802.15.4g improves on the low data rates by enabling the usage of more sub-GHz frequency bands, e.g. 169.4-169.475 MHz and 863-870 MHz in Europe, 450-470 MHz in the US, 470-510 MHz and 779-787 MHz in China, and 917-923.5MHz in Korea. In addition, IEEE 802.15.4g introduces Multi Rate FSK (MR-FSK), OQPSK, and OFDM physical layers, all applicable to these sub-GHz bands. Nevertheless, MR-FSK can still only achieve 200 kbps in the 863-870 MHz band in Europe by using Filtered 4FSK modulation. Higher data rates require MR-OFDM, which may prove inappropriately complex for low-cost and low-power devices. With these new physical layers also come additional complexity from the support of more advanced Forward Error Correction (FEC) schemes, and backward compatibility hassle, as supporting the previous FSK and OQPSK physical layers is mandated. Despite the sensible technical considerations that are generally well-suited for powered device such as smart grid and utilities, there is limited availability of 802.15.4g-enabled chipsets. Consequently, IEEE 802.15.4g will take some time for IEEE 802.15.4g to evolve and to grow before it can be proven as a viable option for the IoT.

The most common flavor of IEEE 802.15.4 operating in the 2.4 GHz provides limited range due to fundamental radio theory as mentioned earlier, and is further degraded by the environment. Moisture affects 2.4 GHz propagation significantly (this is why microwave ovens also operate at 2.4 GHz to be specifically well-absorbed by water), and any obstruction, such as a wall, door, or window, would attenuate 2.4 GHz signals more than 1 GHz.

This may be worked around by using multi-hop communication via special relay devices. These relays cannot be regular battery-powered devices since it implies continuous receiving. Literature states that such multi-hop approach increases overall power-consumption. IEEE 802.15.4 is often claimed to be a mesh topology to compensate for the limited radio coverage and reliability. Yet in practice, this is still a hybrid topology because only some particular AC-powered relays can provide relaying. Resource-constrained end devices would still see the network as a star topology.

As can be seen from some studies, multi-hop / mesh topology could be considered a future trend. However, the current single-radio approaches are not suitable for multi-hop and mesh. If relays and devices share the same medium for communication, then a mesh topology is not an efficient solution, as there cannot be multiple devices communicating simultaneously.

Moreover, it  has to be acknowledged that efficiently managing a large number of clients, ensuring their connectivity, and balancing the data flow in a star or tree topology network are already challenging enough not to add an unnecessary overhead of a multi-hop mesh solution.

Finally, IEEE 802.15.4 has not been designed to handle coexistence with other collocated IEEE 802.15.4 networks, or for device mobility. These limitations will prove to be a real problem when the number of connected devices grows dramatically in future IoT applications. Simply imagine the scenario when the nearby apartments within a same building install a compliant IEEE 802.15.4 IoT network and connected objects. IEEE 802.15.4 is not able to handle this situation. Until a solution is found to coordinate with the nearby IEEE 802.15.4 network, IEEE 802.15.4 is not a viable option for the IoT. This holds true for IEEE 802.15.4-based technologies, ZigBee and 6loWPAN, as well as BLE or Z-Wave, which have no provision for this kind of scenario as well.

Internet of Things Wireless Connectivity Option Analysis: Pros and Cons of Bluetooth Classic, Bluetooth Low Energy, and CSRmesh

Nordic-Semiconductor-launches-the-Blue-nRF8002-a-low-cost-ultra-low-power-uniquely-easy-to-design-in-single-chip-solution-for-Bluetooth-Smart-tags-and-accessories

Analysis of the major Bluetooth technologies, including Bluetooth Classic, Bluetooth Low Energy, and CSRmesh as solution for the last 100m of IoT connectivity.

Bluetooth Classic

Bluetooth Classic, also standardized as IEEE 802.15.1 in 2002 and revised in 2005 (although this standard is not maintained anymore), was invented in 1994 as a replacement for RS-232. Bluetooth Classic operates in the 2.4 GHz band and is limited to a small number of eight devices. Because of the following reasons, Bluetooth Classic is not a suitable protocol for IoT applications:

  • Bluetooth Classic was designed to provide low-latency wireless peripherals and has evolved to provide high data rates. This is achieved at the expense of power consumption.
  • The physical layer (PHY) of Bluetooth Classic only supports long packets (up to 2745 bits of payload) with mandatory channel encoding. This enables higher throughput, however, this is not suitable for resource-constrained devices.
  • The protocol stack of Bluetooth Classic has grown in complexity and can typically be 128 kB of code size, which is not satisfactory for IoT embedded devices.
  • Bluetooth Classic’s loose specification on the modulation index range does not make it easy to improve the receiver performance in the future. Consequently, Bluetooth Classic has poor coverage, typically less than 10 m.
  • With a 3-bit address for piconet space, Bluetooth Classic is limited to having a maximum size of 8 connected devices, which is obviously insufficient for IoT applications.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

BLE also known as Bluetooth v4.0 or Bluetooth Smart originated from Nokia’s WiBree. Contrary to belief, BLE is actually not compatible with Bluetooth Classic since the physical layer (PHY) has been re-designed. BLE is using a fixed data rate of 1 Mbps and GMSK modulation. BLE uses short packets, and is suitable for low-latency proximity communication. Unfortunately, BLE has the following issues that make it less suitable for IoT applications:

  • BLE is operating in the crowded 2.4 GHz frequency band, along with Bluetooth Classic, Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and IEEE 802.15.4. This spectrum crowding will pose a severe reliability challenge to all 2.4 GHz devices, and the problem will only get worse when the number of connected object increases.
  • BLE is optimized for low-latency sporadic transmissions and therefore its efficiency degrades dramatically for larger data transfers. With its maximum of 20 bytes application payload size per packet, the gross 1 Mbps data rate of BLE translates into a theoretical maximum transfer rate of 250 kbps, and in practice the actual transfer rates drops below 100 kbps. This opposed to Bluetooth Classic v1.2 that achieves 700 kbps, and v2.1 + EDR reaches 2 Mbps actual transfer rate. An actual transfer rate of only 1/10 of the gross data rate is rather lackluster and translates into poor power-efficiency for such type of data traffic. Although many IoT applications may have a limited data amount to transfer, e.g., for switching off or changing the color of a light bulb, others would still require slightly larger transfers. As a result, BLE is not suitable for IoT applications that require higher data transfers.
  • BLE has limited range and extending the network therefore requires a hybrid topology where some client nodes act as server nodes for other star networks. In Bluetooth-specific terminology, this is called scatternet, which yields high network complexity in real deployments. For instance, BLE is essentially asynchronous, such that this hybrid topology (mix of star and mesh) causes increased interference and increased power consumption, even inside a single network.
  • Finally, BLE suffers from interference from USB 3.0, and poses a challenge when operating with collocated LTE or WIMAX networks. This is reflected in Bluetooth SIG filtering recommendations. However, workarounds are developed as well.

CSRmesh

In February 2014, CSR plc, formerly Cambridge Silicon Radio, announced the availability of their proprietary CSRmesh software. CSRmesh operates over Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) with the aim to enable mesh topology over the restrictive BLE scatternet topology and to provide direct communication between BLE devices. However, we want to note the following:

  • The main advantage of CSRmesh is to allow smartphone connectivity. It is still questionable whether this connectivity should be achieved via direct connection to any device or more simply via a gateway or routers, e.g., Wi-Fi or BLE-enabled routers, or even through cellular if a device is out of range.
  • Turning BLE into a mesh-able protocol is not that straightforward. Even if BLE in itself is power-efficient for low duty cycle and small data packets, enabling the mesh functionality would require each device to simultaneously be an observer and broadcaster. This implies that each device would continuously listen for advertising packets, and would then switch to advertising the received data for some period.
  • The inefficient use of the radio resources inherent to continuous receive would make it difficult to achieve ultra-low-power consumption in resource-constrained devices. As reported on CSR Forums, there happened to be a current consumption in idle state of around 3mA, which is 100x more than people would expect for a battery powered IoT device. In short, the asynchronous nature of BLE, optimized for low duty cycle / sporadic transmission, seems to offer a challenge for the implementation of a power efficient mesh topology on top of the exiting BLE protocol stack.
  • Allowing direct smartphone connection to every device may not provide additional functions. On the contrary, as discussed above it will drain the battery of the device. In addition, it is a potential security threat because there is no gateway with sufficient computing power to filter access and enable strong authentication security.

questions / comments? fire away!

Internet of Things Wireless Connectivity Option: Wi-Fi Pros and Cons

Wifi-Hotspots
Today one of the most common connectivity technologies for consumer products is Wi-Fi, whose 802.11b/g flavors are using the license-free 2.4 GHz frequency band. A Wi-Fi access point (or hotspot) has a range of about 20 meters (66 feet) indoors and a slightly greater range outdoors. Wi-Fi has the benefit of a large spectrum allowing high data rates, 54 Mbps and still increasing with 802.11n and 802.11ac, in a license-free frequency band that is almost harmonized worldwide1 [17]. Wi-Fi has been widely adopted and it is a great way to provide wireless broadband internet access. However, Wi-Fi is designed for high data rates needed for multimedia contents, as opposed to many IoT applications. There has been some effort to promote low-power Wi-Fi; however, it remains an order of magnitude hungrier than what battery-powered devices in IoT application can afford such as battery powered sensors. In short, Wi-Fi is not a suitable candidate for many IoT applications. It is overkill on the data rate for most applications and an absolute power guzzler.  Wi-Fi is likely to remain the major smartphone and Internet connectivity medium. One can envision that the IoT network gateway would be embedded in the Wi-Fi hub already present in most homes, commercial spaces, factories, and offices.

Fostar unveils wireless camera for home

Wireless Surveillance Camera – but lacks the battery life to make it truly “wireless”

AveAsia

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Fostar unveils its latest home surveillance camera. The FC2501P is a 1.3 megapixel indoor PT wireless IP camera. Private mould by Fostar, the camera boasts the following features:

1.HD quality image– with display resolution 1280*960, the HD image offers detail and high quality view.
2.EZLink for easy connection–the new and fast way EZLink helps to connect the camera with just 3 steps via free App.
3.PT– the pan: 355°and tilt: 120°provide full angle and clear view to users.
4.PIR — advanced Passive Infrared PIR ensures accuracy of alarm.
5.I/O port– external I/O port for various alert devices, e.g. infrared sensor, door magnetic, fog sensor, etc.
Besides, FC2501P also supports night vision up to 8m, two-way audio and Micro SD card storage.

(Fostar)

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Connectivity Options for the Internet of Things (IoT)

First, it was M2M – Machine to Machine communication a technology that was suppose to revolutionize our world, but never really took off in a big way due to the cost of embedding cellular connectivity in the end devices. Now M2M has been replaced with IoT – Internet of Things, a better sounding term and hopefully with smarter and cheaper options to connect random things to the Internet. Everyone has their own idea of what the Internet of Things (IoT) is, but one thing is certain that it will increasingly become important in our lives given the ever decreasing cost of wearable devices, sensors, and other monitoring equipment.

It is important to separate over optimistic ignorant hype from actual reality of the technologies. Any software / hardware engineer who ever developed anything useful will tell you that it is easy to define a use case, but a lot harder to actually build a system.

Our aim is describe technology enablers for IoT, especially communication technologies and protocols that will be used for building IoT applications.

Applications for IoT Abound

Despite a lot of vague use cases cited in popular press (and many seem out of science fiction books rather than based on understanding of technology), IoT can be applied to three broad areas:

– Consumer Homes and Personal Networks

– Consumer in his/her Automotive Vehicle

– Industrial and Office Applications

Homes are easy frontiers to deal with for IoT. A typical American home contains home appliances, entertainments systems, temperature and humidly controls units. It is easy to see how a user will like to be able to manage some or all of these devices using his wearable or handheld devices. Most use cases are easy to enumerate by using a general paradigm of control X using Unit Y.

Automotive sector is already integrating all kind of sensors in the car and creating various enablers like Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS). ADAS can warn drivers from low tire pressure to dangers ahead using a combination of communication and data processing technologies.

Industrial applications for IoT are still in infancy. Most existing M2M applications will be moved to the IoT categories be it the data collection in the supply truck or the manufacturing floor. The amount and type of such applications is only limited by human imagination and the ability of engineers to create them.

Today, these mentioned segments use wireless technologies and Internet interaction, but typically they each focus on what is common within their industry. The chosen wireless solution needs to adequately address the industries’ concerns regarding connectivity options, robust operation, and security features.

Communication Options

The Internet of Things (IoT) is built on an underlying multi-protocol communications framework that can easily move data between embedded “things” and systems located at higher levels of the IoT hierarchy. For designers and application developers, a diverse set of wireless and wired connectivity options provides the glue that holds IoT together.

All IoT sensors require some means of relaying data to the outside world. There’s a plethora of short-range, or local area, wireless technologies available, including: RFID, NFC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (including Bluetooth Low Energy), XBee, ZigBee, Z-Wave and Wireless M-Bus. There’s no shortage of wired links either, including Ethernet, HomePlug, HomePNA, HomeGrid/G.hn and LonWorks.

Selecting the best network option for an IoT device, however, requires a careful look at various factors for each situation.

  • The Scale and Size of the IoT Network
  • Data Throughput or Transfer Requirements,
  • The eventual physical location of the embedded devices, the battery size and physical size etc.

Micro-controllers that provide the heart of most embedded or wearable devices already have certain input output integrated. Today, there is a big choice of good, inexpensive, programmer-friendly devices with nice peripherals, low power consumption, and good cross-platform support. You can get cheap Arduino or Raspberry boards just for under 10 dollars.

Just like Micro-controllers, designers do not lack options for wireless connectivity and ICs able to support them. While ANT, Bluetooth®, WiFi and ZigBee may number among the more familiar alternatives, viable wireless connectivity solutions have coalesced around standards including 6LoWPAN, DASH6, EnOcean, Insteon and Z-Wave, among many others. At the same time, smart designers can use proprietary RF approaches. However, for remote and highly mobile applications cellular broadband with LTE or other Wireless connectivity is the only option.

For Wired Devices, Ethernet Rules Supreme

The Internet of Things (IoT) implies connectivity, and developers have lots of wired and wireless options at their disposal to make it happen. Ethernet tends to dominate the wired realm. IoT frameworks map higher-level protocols on this type of connectivity, but the devices don’t work until they have a method of communication with the network.

At this point, Ethernet implementations range from 10 Mb/s up to 100 Gb/s. Of course, the high end generally targets the backbone of the Internet to link server farms in the cloud, while the low to mid-range runs on the rest of the devices. The median implementation these days is 1-Gb/s Ethernet. A new class of Ethernet speeds looms on the horizon. Essentially, 1-Gb/s Ethernet is bumping up to 2.5 Gb/s with a corresponding hop up for higher-speed Ethernet like 10 Gb/s moving to 25 Gb/s. This change essentially provides faster throughput using the same cabling.

Other less common networking possibilities exist on both the wired and wireless side, but are worth mentioning. For example, the HomePlug Alliance’s Powerline networking uses power connections to power the interface as well as a transmission medium. A host of interoperable products include devices such as wireless access points and bridges to Ethernet.

IoT Wireless Technology Selection

Here it really gets interesting. There are several proprietary wireless solutions used in every segment as well as standards including 6LoWPAN, ANT+, Bluetooth, Bluetooth low energy, DECT, EDGE, GPRS, IrDA, LTE, NFC, RFID, Weightless, WLAN (also commonly referred to as Wi-Fi), ZigBee, Z-Wave, and others. We can briefly examine the merits of each.

Wi-Fi When You Need Big Bandwidth

Wi-Fi, with its array of 802.11 variants, provides the highest throughput of wireless technologies at this point. New emerging 802.11ac uses the 2.5- and 5-GHz bands with a combined bandwidth of 5.3 Gb/s. Indoor range is on the order of 100 to 200 feet. The next evolution—802.11ax—is poised to succeed 802.11ac.

A key challenge for IoT developers surrounds power requirements. WiFi communication technology requires far more power than some other technologies. Hence, WiFi option may have to be limited only to devices such as mobile phone, tablets or where it may be possible to deliver wired power like home mounted temperature control sensors and security system components.

Wi-Fi for more power-limited budgets is possible but will have to add techniques to preserve battery lives. For example, a device can send a burst of data at pre-determined intervals and then get to sleep mode.

Bluetooth Classic and Bluetooth-Low Energy (LE)

Bluetooth is a short-range technology utilizing the 2.4- to 2.485-GHz ISM (industrial, scientific, and medical) band. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group manages the technology, with the latest standard being Bluetooth 4.2.

Until smart phones came with media players, Bluetooth was at the verge of almost dying but since then it has come to be embedded in numerous devices. Bluetooth has “classic” and Low Energy (LE) versions; the 4.x standard allows both or either to be implemented. BT- “classic” and BT-Smart/LE aren’t backward-compatible and very different technologies except for the name.

BT-LE is designed to allow for devices that run and communicate for months or years using low-power sources like button cell batteries or energy-harvesting devices. Classic and Smart Bluetooth maximum range is about 100 m (330 feet), while data rate is up to 3 Mbs/s and 1 Mb/s, respectively. However, actual application throughput, like most wireless technologies, is less—2.1 Mb/s for classic and 0.27 Mb/s for Smart.

A new feature in BT-LE is Bluetooth beacons that permit a transfer of information such as device availability, coupons etc at certain intervals. It can be very useful for IoT apps.

ZigBee – Sensor Networking with Scalable Mesh Routing

This is my favorite technology. You can get ZigBee modules cheaply for a few cents, and integrate in any device. It barely uses any battery, runs for a year on a simply battery, and is good for sending periodic sensor data. It can be used for everything from embedded sensors, medical profiling and, naturally home automation processes.

ZigBee is a wireless technology developed as an open global standard to address the unique needs of low-cost, low-power wireless M2M networks. The ZigBee standard operates on the IEEE 802.15.4 physical radio specification and operates in unlicensed bands including 2.4 GHz, 900 MHz and 868 MHz.

A key component of the ZigBee protocol is the ability to support mesh networking of up to 65,000 nodes. In a mesh network, nodes are interconnected with other nodes so that multiple pathways connect each node. Connections between nodes are dynamically updated and optimized through sophisticated, built-in mesh routing table.

Other Low Energy Wireless Options – Zwave, 6LowPan, MiWi, ANT etc.

Just like ZigBee, there are other options some proprietary, some developed by a group of vendors and some coming through other standardization bodies that sit on top of IEEE 802.15.4 physical radio specifications or have their own proprietary radio layers.

Zwave, supported by the Z-Wave Alliance, is another competing technology to Zigbee for home automation projects. Like ZigBee it too supports mesh networking, but is protocol is proprietary. ZigBee chipsets are produced by several silicon vendors, while Z-Wave ones come only from one manufacturer, Sigma Designs.

Z-Wave uses the Part 15 unlicensed ISM band. It operates at 908.42 MHz in the U.S. and Canada but uses other frequencies in other countries depending on their regulations Performance characteristics are similar to 802.15.4, including 100-kb/s throughput and a 100-ft. (30.5 m) range.

In addition, a number of vendor-specific protocols are built on 802.15.4, such as Microchip’s MiWi, which are often lighter weight and have fewer licensing restrictions.

6LoWPAN is a low-power wireless mesh network where every node has its own IPv6 address, allowing it to connect directly to the Internet using open standards. Since, each node has its own IP address all other IP routing protocols can be used.

ANT is an open access multicast wireless sensor network technology designed and marketed by ANT Wireless, now part of Garmin, featuring a wireless communications protocol stack that enables semiconductor radios operating in the 2.4 GHz band (“ISM band”) to communicate. ANT is characterized by low computational overhead resulting in low power consumption by the radios supporting the protocol and enabling low power wireless embedded devices that can operate on a single coin-cell battery from months to years..

In short, 6LoWPAN, ZigBee, ZWAve, MiWi, ANT are all competing for the same space.

Cellular Network Options Are Still Available

Most cellular IoT devices aim to use Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G and 5G standards. Cellular technology has the advantage of coverage and availability in the large areas. For some devices mounted in the moving trains, trucks, roadside emergency devices, or cars this may be the only viable option.

LTE and LTE-advanced both provide excellent bandwidth throughputs. LTE provides almost like 300 MBits/sec. 4G LTE-Advanced will provide 1 Gb/s, while 5G promises 10 Gb/s.

The major problem is the recurring cost of cellular connectivity since cellular operation requires plans from service providers.

Device Selection Criteria for IoT Designers

IoT is about creating a most efficient, application specific network of connected devices. Connected devices all share five key components:

  • The need for smarter power consumption, data storage, and network management;
  • The need for stronger safeguards for privacy and security;
  • The need high-performance micro-controllers (MCUs); sensors and actuators; and
  • The ability to communicate without losing information.

To narrow down the list of options, compare the technologies from the following IoT key needs:

  • Cost efficiency: Most IoT devices are of low cost, and need affordable radio solutions. So, performance and cost balance are very important.
  • Small size. IoT devices are typically of small size, the radio technology with all its Antenna, battery etc need to physically fit in the housing of the sensor device.
  • Secure Communication. Security of communication is needed. Authentication and data encryption must be supported by the chosen wireless technology. Also, it should be possible to build end to end secure applications.
  • Low power consumption. Since most IoT devices operate on batteries or energy harvesting technologies, the radio technology must have ultra-low power consumption.
  • Strong Available Ecosystem. For any device selection you will need to examine its ecosystems since interoperability with other devices will be important.
  • High Reliability under Noisy Conditions. IoT devices will operate in less than perfect conditions. Hence wireless technology must be able to deal with signal noise, interference and other environmental conditions.
  • Easy to Use. It is possible to leave configurations to experts in the industrial settings, but for consumers ease of plug and play is needed.
  • Radio Range extension capability. Though IoT operates in short distances, it is important that the chosen technology can offer enough range coverage or have some range extension capabilities.

Matching the Design to the Target Market

Despite the bewildering list of connectivity options, system designers find that the best option for a particular IoT device. A design is often constrained based on application needs, performance requirements and environmental limitations. The need for compatibility in established markets may also affect the best connectivity choice.

The good part is that if you are a hardware or embedded system designer, the choices of components is plentiful.

You can find a diverse set of relate hardware solutions including modules and ICs for ANT connectivity from vendors including Nordic Semiconductor, Panasonic and Texas Instruments; ZigBee solutions from Atmel, Freescale and Microchip; and Bluetooth/BLE solutions from CSR, RFM and STMicroelectronics, 6LowPAN devices from TI, STMicroElectronics, Sensinode, Atmel etc.

If you are designing IoT devices or wants to create iOT software and need individual consulting, feel free to connect with me.

Great Write Up about Pebble and Apple Iwatch

Pebble vs. Apple: David and Goliath This Ain’tapple-watch-6_1

By 

By this time next week Apple will have, once again, sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Next Monday, at one of the company’s time-tested high-profile events, we’ll all be attending the coming out party for Apple Watch.

But this week, the smart watch news is all about Pebble, which can reasonably claim to have energized the space three years ago in a very Apple way: Exploding onto the scene with a breakthrough device someone else thought of first.

Pebble returned to Kickstarter last week in a bald attempt to capitalize on the smart watch buzz created by Apple’s imminent entry into the space with Pebble Time, a sportier model with a new approach to notifications it calls Timeline. They’ve promised a month of news, timed to the 30-day campaign, which includes today’s reveal of — surprise! — an upgrade option to Pebble Time Steel, a steal at only $80 more than the (long since taken) $170 batch (Yes, I’m in. Again).

Pebble and Apple isn’t David and Goliath, at least not as far as Pebble CEO Eric Migicovsky is concerned. “Whether delusional, manically focused or simply well-rehearsed, Migicovsky chose to view the Apple announcement as a plus for Pebble,” Steven Levy writes in Backchannel. ‘It’s pretty incredible to see the world’s largest company come into the watch space,’ he said. ‘It’s validating something I’ve known for the last six and a half years — that the next generation of computing will be on your body.'”

What is undeniably true is that Pebble has sold more than one million watches in three years, and six days into a 30-day Kickstarter campaign, has sold another $14 million worth. With that, the company has re-claimed the title (it first took with the original Pebble) as the most funded Kickstarter project ever.

So, there is that.

I first took notice of Pebble in my Reuters column when they broke all records on their first Kickstarter campaign, in April 2012:

A Kickstarter project for a device you wear on your wrist, but that needs a smartphone to do anything really interesting, has raised more than $5.3 million in eight days. This is this far and away the most anyone has ever raised on Kickstarter, and it’s happening – with a gadget in a category that has a pretty dismal track record – at a sales pace that would make even Apple sit up and take notice.

As much as I like to dine out on those last words, I’m not really sure Apple did “sit up take notice” as much as it might have already been working on the idea for quite some time.

The smart watch has all the earmarks of the sort of device-that-time-forgot Apple often manages to turn into something relevant. Microsoft had tried and failed with it a decade before the first Pebble (note the similarities to the tablet, which Apple reinvented a decade after the Redmond giant tried to market its own). Various kinds of smart watch have been around ever since, getting little love. Even Pebble was going nowhere fast as a developer of a device tethered to Blackberry phones, which were about to fall off a cliff.

What changed? Two very important, intertwined things.

Smart watches were originally conceived of as stand-alone devices. The limitations are now pretty obvious, chiefly the tiny screen. Remember, though, at the time ofMicrosoft’s SPOT, screens on mobile phones were also pretty tiny.

But they didn’t do all that much. Unlike the Dick Tracy device people of a certain age remember fondly you couldn’t even talk to anyone with it. I mean, we KNEW that watches were communications devices in the early 1960s. So why aren’t they in the year 2002?!

Apple went a long way towards setting the stage for the emergence of the smart phone as must-have mobile device in 2007, with the first iPhone. Among the new features was a ginormous screen, which made activities like web surfing credible on a mobile device. So successful was the smart phone that it created a new version of a problem futurist Alvin Toffler had identified in 1970: information overload. Hard core techies, like Gigaom’s Mathew Ingram, would soon argue that you should choose a smart phone based on how well they wrangled notifications above all other features.

And that was the new opening for the resurgence of the smart watch. The trick, from my perspective, is to avoid mission creep. It is to remember that the opportunity lies in extending the utility of the smart phone, not replacing it.

But the existential question about whether smart watches are a mainstream consumer item is valid. Notification management is pretty hard core. One new use case: There are unique health monitoring opportunities for something strapped to your wrist. Pebble steals a little of that thunder today — surprise! — with a reveal of the smartstrap, which can “contain electronics and sensors to interface directly with apps running on Pebble Time.” That is another open invitation to developers, who have already flocked to the Pebble platform in very respectable numbers — 26,000 have written 6,000 apps.

Apple may bury Pebble, or its entry into the smart watch space might lift all boats — even Android, whose fans will tell you already boasts a range of excellent choices with features Apple will reinvent, or steal, depending on your point of view.

So, for a smart watch aficionado these are exciting times. If Apple is wildly successful, look to them to even extend coverage to Android devices, like iTunes spread to Windows. Apple’s entry is a make-or-break event which will answer whether there is a massive, pent-up hunger for this kind of device, or whether it’s only a play thing for people like me.

Either way, it’s about time.

The internet of things is revolutionising the world of sport

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By Stephen Pritchard

Each game in this year’s Six Nations championship will produce two million rows of data, equivalent to more than 1,400 actions (tries, conversions, tackles, passes and so on) per game. This data will be fed to broadcasters, fans (via the official Six Nations app among other channels) and to coaches who can and will use the information to improve player performance.

The idea of capturing data during a sporting event is not new but the richness of the data now available and the speed at which it is gathered certainly is.

In the 1950s Charles Reep, an RAF officer and accountant, pioneered the idea of data capture in sport. While watching football matches he created a system of paper notation to record players’ moves. It took him three months to wade through the data produced by the 1958 World Cup final.

Reep’s work is not without controversy: among other things, he is credited with driving English football managers’ fondness for the long-ball game. But there is no doubt that his work and the system of notational analysis he patented has changed the way teams play sport and how fans now watch them.

Reep, of course, only had the most basic tools available to study a match: his eyes, a notepad and a pencil. It was only in the 1990s that football, rugby and a raft of other professional sporting clubs started to install cameras which enabled match-play monitoring.

The move to digital cameras, that can capture much better pictures and transfer far more information, is even more recent.

Over the last few years, clubs have started to marry up information from their cameras and video screens with other sources of data, especially information from GPS (global positioning system) satellites and accelerometers worn by players.

“We are seeing the convergence of health and lifestyle technology,” says Mark Skilton at PA Consulting. “You can wear a sensor in your shirt, on your wrist, shoe or raquet; we’re even seeing sensors in golf clubs to monitor players’ swings using kinetic real-time feedback.”

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But the way sports are layering these different technologies together is changing coaching, the way fans view sports and even how sports clubs are run. A variety of applications now mean the keen fan can see not just how their team performed but which players were most influential in the game. Any fan with a WiFi connection and a tablet device now has, in effect, a coach’s eye view of the game.

In Reep’s day, sports analysts had no choice but to go through their notes after the game. Even the first-generation video coaching aids required back-room staff to watch hours of footage in order to pick out the key parts of the game to show players. Now, because of digital technology, access to all this information is as good as instant.

Sports are benefiting too from off-the-pitch technologies making it easier to capture and share information.

The development of ubiquitous networks of connected sensors and communications, known as the internet of things, is giving rise to intelligent buildings. Sports venues are no exception and teams and sports scientists can piggyback on this intelligence to share rich data.

Technology company Cisco is heavily involved in smart buildings but also has a project called the Connected Athlete.

The Connected Athlete takes data from sensors, for example in a shoe or boot, and then connects that up to the stadium’s WiFi network or even a low-powered cellular phone transmitter so that teams can monitor it. But because the internet of things allows the athlete’s sensors to connect to other networks, it can be shared with fans and broadcasters too.

Much of the power of the internet of things in sports, relies on the idea of a “smart building” to tie together existing technology resources. These include WiFi, sensors including intruder alarms, door entry systems, thermostats and smart meters, digital displays and even electronic ticketing.

In this way, building owners and building management software know where people are, what they are doing and how much energy they are using.

From a business perspective, such data becomes very valuable when it comes to cutting the running costs of large buildings, but they bring benefits too in public safety and security.

Coupling a smart building with digital signage allows building managers to give visitors up to date information, and redirect people away from busy areas to where queues are shorter.

Already being used to ease congestion at airports, an intelligent building system can direct people to the least busy turnstile or bar, or even where the toilet queues are shortest. Signs can direct the public in an emergency, but the rest of the time they can show match information, player statistics or even special offers.

A proof of concept by Accenture (who sponsor this series), goes a step further. Trialled at Twickenham during the Six Nations, their technology combines a wireless headset with the Six Nations app and information cards created by an expert curator showing data from critical points in a game.

Hooked up to the Wi-Fi network, according to Ben Salama, UK and Ireland managing director of Accenture Mobility, the tech could be extended into areas as diverse as catering. “You could see half time scores from other games,” he says, “but also to order drinks to be delivered to your seat without missing any of the game.” This, he says, is one way for sporting venues to increase their revenues.

There is still some way to go before such gadgets become mainstream at sporting events. Cost is one barrier. Others include connectivity and battery life.

Accenture admits that most UK stadiums lack a powerful enough WiFi system to support a truly connected experience; the firm had to build a new network at Twickenham for its proof of concept.

Manufacturers also say more needs to be done to allow devices to stream more data and to last for a match, or beyond, on a single battery charge.

“We’re constantly looking at ways to reduce power consumption the technology consumes,” says Sujata Neidig, director of business development for consumer technology at Freescale, a microchip maker. “And we are also looking at wireless charging.” That way, fans can focus on the game rather than hunting for a power socket.