First published 5.31.2016
There’s no denying the role connectivity plays in regards to devices and how efficiently they communicate information. While wireless capabilities continue to make headlines, there’s still a great deal of value in wired specifications, first and foremost with USB connections.
USB connectors are easy to confuse. They’ve come in many shapes and sizes over the years beginning with Mini, Micro, Type-A, Type-B and now Type-C. For reference, a USB type simply refers to the shape of the ports and plugs while the version, such as 1.1, 2.0, or the current USB 3.1, usually denotes speed. The Type-A connector connects into a host, such as a laptop, while the Type-B connector plugs into a peripheral device. Type-A is always the flat and wide connector shown in the figure below while Type-B can show up in many different shapes due to the differences in devices it connects into.
USB Type-C was first introduced in 2014, implemented to some degree in 2015 (more notably on Macbooks), and is increasingly becoming a standard for many devices in 2016. It’s being called “a leap forward” in connectivity and for good reason.
USB Type-C separates itself from its predecessors because it:
Though it can handle a wide variety of tasks that previously took multiple cables, Type-C’s versatility comes at a cost because USB’s once-simple inner workings of cables, ports, dongles, and hubs have been replaced by more complex embedded components. There are two main complications that arise when developing Type-C solutions. The first relates to power distribution. A Type-C connector can send or receive up to 100W of power, but this can be a problem for devices that don’t require that much power.
The second common roadblock when developing a Type-C solution deals with the potential for communication failures due to the increase in supported communication standards. Since communication between hosts and devices requires detecting and processing digital and analog signals, an embedded MCU is required. Silicon Labs can alleviate these issues through the creation of it’s new MCU, which integrates more functionalities in a package as small as 3X3 mm².
Although it’s clear USB Type-C represents a new wave of enhanced connectivity, it unfortunately can cause problems for developers and designers. To learn more about how we’re simplifying Type-C development, download this whitepaper.
We’ve also released a comprehensive reference design featuring cost-effective, ultra-low-power EFM8 microcontrollers (MCUs), USB Power Delivery (PD) protocol stacks certified by the USB Implementation Forum (USB-IF), and USB Billboard Device source code.
Our reference design provides a complete solution for a USB Type-C to DisplayPort (DP) adapter, making it easy to communicate with legacy products that do not support USB-C. Available to qualified developers at no charge, the reference design includes schematics, software libraries and stacks, source code, code examples and access to Simplicity Studio™ development tools, enabling developers to design USB-C cables and adapters quickly, easily and at minimal cost.
Get all the details about the USB Type-C reference design including software stacks, schematics, documentation, tools, and EFM8 MCU information at www.silabs.com/usb-type-c.
The future of the IoT is open, seamless and secure.
We welcome the launch of the Connected Home over IP project and strongly support the working group dedicated to developing and promoting a new, open-source wireless protocol designed to increase compatibility among smart home products, with IP connectivity and IoT security being foundational design elements.
We are committed to advancing open wireless technologies and platforms for the IoT. We look forward to working with the Zigbee Alliance and fellow board members including IKEA, Legrand, NXP, Resideo, Samsung SmartThings, Schneider Electric, Signify (Philips Hue), Somfy and Wulian to drive the success of the Connected Home over IP project.
As a Zigbee Alliance board member, we will contribute to the project to create a new IP-based protocol enabling secure, reliable and seamless smart home connectivity. We encourage everyone in the smart home industry to get behind this much-needed project aimed to simplify development for IoT device manufacturers and increase ecosystem compatibility for consumers everywhere.
There is a huge demand today for adding Wi-Fi connectivity to IoT applications because of the many advantages over other wireless protocols (Zigbee, Bluetooth, etc.) such as longer range, native IP connectivity, and high bandwidth. For millions of IoT applications, including industrial machines and sensors, Wi-Fi is often the best choice for connectivity because of its robust infrastructure and global reach- Wi-Fi exists almost everywhere in the world today.
Challenges for developers: The biggest challenge for developers has been the high-power consumption of Wi-Fi in IoT systems. Wi-Fi protocols were designed primarily to optimize bandwidth, range, and throughput, not power consumption. This makes it a poor choice for power-constrained applications that rely on battery power. Of the various cons of using standard Wi-Fi protocols, high power consumption is the most impactful (range limitations and busy networks are cons as well). Until today, developers have avoided adding Wi-Fi to their IoT applications as there hasn’t been a viable option for adding Wi-Fi connectivity to battery operated devices that didn’t require high power consumption.
These are the four key challenges when adding Wi-Fi connectivity:
Power consumption in Wi-Fi varies dramatically across various modes of operation and it’s important to understand the different modes and optimize them to reduce overall power consumption. One strategy is to stay in the lowest power mode as much as possible and transmit/receive data quickly when needed.
RF performance: Unlike many wireless protocols, Wi-Fi power consumption is significantly impacted by RF performance and network conditions. This is a significant problem with the increasingly crowded Wi-Fi networks today. A busy network leads to many retries/retransmissions which consumes a high level of power. Developers must focus on reducing retransmissions and controlling link budgets to be successful.
Wi-Fi devices typically consume significant power in both Transmit (Tx) and Receive (Rx) modes. There are several ways to reduce power consumption and optimize Tx and Rx modes. First choose devices with high selectivity/out of band rejection. Also, choose devices with high Rx sensitivity, and if possible, choose uncrowded channels for device operation. This might mean using channels not used by chatty connections such as video streaming.
Applications: Power consumption is highly dependent on the application and use case. IoT applications typically fall into one of three categories:
Always on/connected-these devices are always on which allows users to access the device remotely at any time via cloud or mobile application. A Wi-Fi video camera is a good example of this use case. Latency is a critical factor in these applications and power consumption is dominated by the transmit power mode (the highest power consumption), as the device is transmitting data and it would be detrimental to be inactive or inaccessible.
Periodically connected - These devices are connected to a remote server or cloud platform and only need to transmit occasionally. A good example is a temperature or humidity sensor that sends data every few minutes and it can tolerate the small amount of time it takes to become active. Latency is not a major concern and the power consumption is dominated by receive and sleep currents. It stays in intermediate power levels so it’s never completely awake or asleep so it wakes up faster.
Event-driven - An online shopping order button is a good example of event-driven Wi-Fi connectivity. It’s almost always inactive/asleep, meaning there is no data transmission. It wakes up infrequently, and it takes longer to wake up from this mode. An event occurs that triggers wakeup such as when a user selects the order button. This mode is dominated by the lowest sleep current and is best when needing to use the least amount of power possible for an IoT application.
Design issues - Lowering Wi-Fi power consumption is also a design system issue and is a critical challenge for developers today. Power management and extended battery life are major factors when developing IoT applications. Although standard Wi-Fi protocols weren’t designed initially for low power operations, there are many techniques to help significantly reduce power consumption. These techniques include optimizing Rx and Tx modes, optimizing power-saving modes (sleep modes, WMM, DTIM, shutdown/standby), choosing the right hardware, using built-in specifications, optimizing RF performance, and system level optimization. Developers must understand all the contributing factors to overall energy consumption in IoT devices.
They must also understand both system-level factors and deep application factors in order to achieve low energy consumption in their applications. Finding the right mix of power-saving Wi-Fi modes and selecting the right hardware are the keys to dramatically reducing power consumption. Leveraging hardware and software designed specifically for IoT devices and low power consumption can reduce long term costs, overcome development challenges, extend battery life, and potentially enhance the life of products and customer satisfaction.
We solve the power management issues for IoT developers by providing drop-in Wi-Fi solutions, including pre-programmed modules (WF200 and WGM160) that can cut power consumption in half. These solutions are designed proactively with low power IoT applications in mind and work in a wide range of applications from home automation to commercial, retail, security, and consumer health-care products. Pre-programmed modules provide a prototype quickly which helps developers get products to market faster.
To read the full whitepaper on this topic. click here:
Silicon Labs has an unusually broad perspective of the smart home market, being we provide both chipset and wireless solutions to a vast array of global smart home customers. But what makes us especially unique is that we support most all of the major smart home connectivity protocols, and even offer solutions to help customers create their own wireless protocols. Wireless connectivity is complicated, but it’s getting remarkably easier for both designers and users as time goes by. And as it does, the smart home is getting much smarter.
The smart home market as we know it initially started in the early 2000s, and for many years, the question has always been – when is mass adoption going to happen? No one knows for sure. Yet we are confident adoption rates will increase substantially this coming year. According to Statista, there are already nearly 35 million smart homes in the U.S. in 2018, with growth expected toward 60 million homes by 2023. People have been using smart home thermostats, lighting, and security products for quite a few years now, but the smart speakers recently introduced have been an explosive driver for the smart home. More than 50 percent of smart speaker owners have gone on to buy other smart home products, and Gartner predicts that 75 percent of U.S. households will have smart speakers by 2020.
So what’s coming up in 2019 that will be different for the smart home? Silicon Labs shares some predictions below.
Professionals take a backseat: One of the shortcomings of the smart home thus far has been the tendency for people to buy the application they want, but once they get the package home, the installation is too complicated and an outside professional is required to install the device. Thanks to new highly interoperable smart home platforms, such as the Silicon Labs Z-Wave SmartStart, the installation of products is becoming surprisingly easier. Ring is a good example of a new plug and play security smart home product that just needs to be plugged in, then the user sees the application on their phone. It’s that easy.
AI and smart home unite: Wireless and mesh connectivity solutions have improved dramatically in range and power consumption in recent years, enabling low-costs sensors to be deployed across the home (and yard). No longer limited by short ranges and power constraints, ubiquitous devices are giving the smart home the ability to react intelligently to changing conditions. The smart home has already seen the first iterations of AI, otherwise known as context-aware intelligence, in consumer products, and more are on the way. A popular example is the smart thermostat that learns family preferences. New smart thermostats will sense how many people are in which rooms of the house and adjust accordingly. They will know what time of day energy prices drop and react for optimal economy.
Insurance industry adoption: More than ten years ago we saw smart home thermostat products disrupt the utility market, and we’re going to see those kinds of dynamics happen again in other markets. Smart home insurance IoT products are something to watch closely this year. Context-aware smart homes are allowing the insurance industry to move its central business paradigm from reactive claim services in to proactive loss prevention. A draft in the home can be traced to a roof in need of costly repair. Moisture in the garage can distinguish between a simple worn valve or an expensive leak in the foundation. Water Hero, an IoT product that detects a water leak in the house before it escalates, is the first of many new insurance IoT products that will continue to hit the market in the coming year.
Homes get even smarter: Some of the early smart home consumer products centered around video monitoring, yet a more sophisticated sensing is materializing. New smart home products for Aging in Place are a great example. Keeping close watch on older and more fragile family members doesn’t mean they need to be watched via obtrusive video cameras. Instead, data can be collected about elderly daily habits from invisible sensors in appliances, lights, rooms, medicine cabinets, etc. If the data shows unusual irregularities, family members can be notified.
Costs decrease, longevity increases: The beauty of a maturing technology market is as the technology advances, the costs come down, and this dynamic will be no different in 2019 for the smart home. Besides decreasing consumer costs, we’ll also see major gains in battery and low power. A truly smart environment features embedded sensing throughout the entire space, including areas where direct electrical power is either impossible or impractical. Battery operated devices are a necessary mainstay of the smart home landscape. Due to their need for continual battery replacement, service providers and end users often limit the deployment of these devices, thus limiting the life cycle of the system. The recently released Silicon Labs Z-Wave 700 platform is so efficient that it can allow battery operated devices to provide ten years of service on a single coin cell battery. We will start seeing the benefits of this battery development in the coming year as applications roll out based on the technology.
We'd love to hear about what you're expecting from the smart home market this year.
Recently a vulnerability called KRACK in Wi-Fi security, which exploited the Key Reinstallation process part of WPA2, was discovered and published by researchers. This impacts all manner of Wi-Fi-based devices, including phones and laptops, but more importantly it’s affecting connected cameras, bulbs, medical devices, and HVAC systems as well. This class of devices, referred to as IoT devices, are especially vulnerable because they don’t come with an easy way to locate, identify, and update them in the field. Since these devices do not have a user interaction model or attendant management infrastructure such as the ones that are taken for granted with smartphones, they are at risk for an extended period of time.
Vendors are, rightly, working diligently to make software updates available that will patch the issue. Even after the patch is made available, the issue still remains because distributing these updates to the product fleet is a significant gap. Current retrofitting processes, such as emailing customers or dispatching field service teams to update the products, are simply too slow, expensive, or do not provide enough coverage. According to HD Moore, a network security researcher at Atredis Partners, some of these devices may stay vulnerable for decades.
The solution lies in designing in an efficient device management service for product fleets, be it consumer or commercial connected products, from day one as insurance against future vulnerabilities. The service needs to have three key aspects:
Silicon Labs’ offers a solution to this problem in the form a cloud-based service called Zentri Device Management Service. This is a hardware agnostic service that is already helping customers identify the security posture of their fleet and apply software updates gradually or all at once. Additionally, the service can monitor the security fleet and be used to selectively disable or de-activate compromised devices.
There has been significant press coverage regarding the KRACK attack on the WPA2 protocol used in most modern Wi-Fi systems. With the attack, the security of WPA2 becomes equivalent of using an open, insecure Wi-Fi network. Any service using secure protocols at higher level, such as HTTPS, TLS etc. are still secure.
We are working on patches for our Wi-Fi products.
In the meantime, the mitigation is to secure the implementations using secure application level protocols, such as HTTPS, TLS etc. This should not only be done due to KRACK, but also because that would protect against open Wi-Fi networks, spoofed access points, or monitoring from ISPs or governments. So all systems should be secured at the application levels regardless of KRACK.
Links for how to use TLS / HTTPS:
Links regarding the attack:
As the number of IoT devices hitting the market continues to explode, the pace of security threats mounting grows right alongside it. If security isn’t addressed seriously by embedded designers, the vulnerabilities of connected products could significantly stall or halt IoT market growth. That being said, security is a serious priority, not an afterthought.
Fortunately, designers have many options on the best way to build security into connected product designs. Yet the process of building a highly secure IoT device is complicated and requires critical trade-offs by product designers. The trick is weighing the needs of the user and the limitations and strengths of the hardware and wireless infrastructure.
Lars Lydersen, Senior Director of Product Security at Silicon Labs, just released a whitepaper titled, “Security Tradeoffs and Commissioning Methods for Wireless IoT Protocols,” which provides solid recommendations and guidance on the often perplexing task of commissioning wireless devices onto a network.
The whitepaper provides a snapshot of some of the key lurking security threats that are relentlessly calculating new ways to hack into connected devices. Several examples mentioned include the passive listeners, who don’t block traffic, but instead listen for valuable data, or the Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) active attacker, who intercepts all traffic while maintaining a disguise to prevent the other communicator or device from knowing it’s talking to an adversary.
In order for devices to combat these cunning and ever-shifting tactics successfully, a number of scenarios and trade-offs need to be taken into consideration by the embedded designer. For example, when securing wireless or wired links, a secret key must be provided between the devices. During this commissioning phase, strong authentication action must be made by the user, infrastructure or operations on the device side in order to avoid MITM attacks. But this approach can place unforeseen requirements on the device interface or online connectivity for the end device.
This is just one example of the complexity involved in commissioning - the paper provides specific guidance on a variety of secure IoT approaches. Typically, three different types of commissioning schemes are available for designers. The whitepaper explores the details of these schemes, including permissive, which happens without authentication; a shared key, which allows the commissioning device and onboarding device to authenticate using a shared identical key; and the certificate-based commissioning scheme; which authenticates the key exchange using public key cryptography primitives.
Today’s most popular IoT protocols include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy, Zigbee and Thread. All of the protocols support out-of-band commissioning. Lydersen’s paper provides several specific recommendations for out-of-band commissioning, such as Near-Field Communication or details on how to derive a key from another standard.
Overall, if you need a quick and informative review of commissioning wireless scheme options and the different levels of security available – this read is a must.
New IoT security threats are a constant. Therefore, educating ourselves on the best security approaches to safeguard IoT must be, as well. Enjoy the whitepaper!
Intelligent transportation system provider Q-Free has been working in the transportation management market for the past 30 years. Based in Norway, the global company plans to roll out a new parking IoT product this fall. According to an INRIX study published in USA Today, American drivers spend 17 hours a year searching for parking spots and a whopping $20 billion annually in garage fees, parking tickets, and fuel burned while searching for a spot. Silicon Labs recently had the chance to sit down with Q-Free Project Manager, Brage Blekken, to hear more about the new sensor parking product.
So for people not familiar with Q-Free, can you give us a brief overview of the company?
Q-Free delivers a broad portfolio of intelligent transportation systems for the global market. Our systems include solutions for electronic road tolling (DSRC systems), vehicle counters and classifiers, traffic control and surveillance technologies, and parking management solutions. Our product installations can be found in more than 20 countries around the world.
How did the company get started?
Our company started in the eighties after building electronic toll collection technologies in Norway. Since then, we have greatly expanded our product offering to include numerous intelligent transportation technologies, with recent expansions into Europe, Asia, South America, and we are now entering North America. We’ve built some of the largest nationwide road tolling systems found in the world today.
Can you tell us a little bit about your parking sensor technology?
We actually used technology from our toll road technology products and applied it to our parking sensors. Over the past five years, we’ve been offering indoor parking technology, which are systems you find in indoor parking lots, such as shopping malls. These systems hang over the parking space to detect, track, and monitor parked cars.
Now what is the IoT parking technology you are planning to launch later this year? How does it work?
Our new ParQSense Smart Parking Sensor helps drivers find parking spots on the street level by using wireless technology. Most people don’t know this, but typically 20 percent of the traffic on the roads in an urban area is generated from people looking for parking spots. So our product is essentially removing excess traffic off the roads, which is Q-Free’s primary mission as a company – remove the Q’s (vehicle flow), or the excess traffic flow on the road.
Our Smart Sensor uses dual technology (radar and magnetic field) to sense with 99% accuracy whether a vehicle is present in a parking space. Space availability sensor data is then transmitted to centralized base stations using long range communication. The Q-Free HUB, the cloud IoT backend service can send that information to a variety of outputs, such as Variable Message Signs located near the parking site, and it can also go straight to end-users through websites or mobile phone applications. The ParQSense Smart Sensor product line will be commercially launched at the 25th ITS World Congress in Copenhagen September 17-21, 2018. For our next development, we are working on a full IoT Smart Sensor version which will use existing 4G telecommunication networks to transmit data directly to the Q-Free HUB. We’re planning to commercially launch a dual standard IoT Smart Sensor (LTE Cat M1 and NB-IoT) in the second half of 2019.
Is there a product like this on the market right now already?
The parking sensors currently out there today have accuracy limitations, so they are not producing correct occupancy data which can negatively impact the parking experience. Our dual sensing technology ParQSense Smart Sensor has the highest industry accuracy producing the most reliable parking data, which can be used to analyze trends and make future predations to improve overall traffic. We also have a rock solid dual communication interface, which is a real edge for us because it gives sensors the ability to communicate over long distances to our proprietary centralized base stations. The next development of a full IoT Smart Sensor in 2019, using existing telecommunication infrastructure, will be a huge step in the right direction towards realizing next generation Smarter City connectivity.
What kind of design challenges did you have when creating the product?
The combination of the high accuracy components with extreme low power consumption was our primary challenge when building this product. It also had to be rugged and robust to fit into any environment.
The sensor life expectancy is 10+ years on average. This means we cannot afford to use more than a few microamperes on average while maintaining the high performance data link and intensive signal processing required to operate the radar circuits.
Different global IoT Standards have proven a challenge, that is why we postponed the full IoT Smart Sensor launch until 2019, to satisfy the LTE Cat M1 and NB-IoT markets with a dual standard Smart Sensor.
Can you tell us why you picked Silicon Labs as the supplier?
The main challenges for us in building this product were related to extreme low power consumption. Silicon Labs is one of the top players in the world for low power electronics, and also wireless communications components. That’s the main reason we selected Silicon Labs, you have the top solutions for our specific design challenges that help us design the right product for the market.
Where do you see IoT in the next 5-8 years?
Look at Internet access on cell phones – everyone has it now, though that was not the case 5 or 10 years ago. I think IoT will definitely go the same way as mobile phones - everything in our lives will all be connected to the Internet. And people will not be thinking about the technology behind it, they will just expect it to be there.
That means that we as solution providers need to converge towards standards for wireless IoT connectivity, which ensures easy interoperability between devices and online services. My bet is that the new low power IoT standards, NB-IoT and LTE Cat M1, which right now are being released into existing 4G and the upcoming 5G networks, will be one of the standardized ways to connect our devices to the Internet.
A collection of Bluetooth vulnerabilities named “BlueBorne” has just been made public by the security research company Armis. The vulnerabilities are not in the Bluetooth standard itself, but rather in the specific implementations of the Bluetooth standard. The Silicon Labs Bluetooth implementation is different from the affected implementations. Therefore, products based on our Bluetooth software are immune to BlueBorne.
This has been disclosed responsibly, which means that vendors have had time to issue security patches. Therefore, please update and patch all Bluetooth-products based on Android, Windows, iOS or Linux! And if in doubt, follow best practice and update all smart products regardless of protocol and software platform.
As a note, fighting BlueBorne shows the importance of being able to software upgrade connected devices, as discussed here:
Silicon Labs provides RF range calculators for customers to help estimate the actual range of their wireless applications. Simple RF Range Calculator is available to download here.
RF range depends on the following parameters
Propagation factor, depends on the environment
Simple RF Range Calculator
This simple RF range calculator is for those customers who don’t want to deal with difficult RF questions just simply would like to get fast and reasonable results for both outdoor and indoor environments.
Simple RF Range Calculator provides fast and accurate result as the customer selected the frequency band and set TX and RX parameters:
Simple RF Range Calculator with frequency band selection
Frequency bands and custom frequency channels also can be selected:
Simple RF Range Calculator with custom frequency channel set up
TX Output Power and RX Sensitivity need to set up based on the radio device’s actual link parameters based on the data sheet. If the exact antenna parameters are unknown notes at the right side can help to determine the closest values:
Simple RF Range Calculator with notes