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Key enablers in wireless sensor systems

11 Sep 2013  | Harmke de Groot, Kathleen Philips

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In order to support all multiple standards, the radio architecture is crucial and not straightforward. The radio should support non-constant envelope modulations, such as the non-constant envelope differential-phase-shift-keying (DPSK) modulations defined in the IEEE802.15.6 narrowband physical layer (PHY), which makes an energy efficient implementation a challenge.

The imec multi-standard transceiver supports these three widely used standards with one single IC. Moreover, for every individual standard, the imec radio chip consumes significantly less power than any of the commercially available single standard solutions.

The combination of multi-standard support and best-in-class performance is enabled by ultra-low power circuit design and the use of an advanced architecture. For example, techniques like two-point modulation of a fractional PLL and a sigma-delta digitally controlled power amplifier allow direct digital-to-RF envelope conversion in the transmitter. For the example of the BLE standard, this results in a power consumption of 5.7mW when transmitting at the maximum allowable output power. That is six times lower than the reported state-of-the-art power consumption.

In the receiver, a sliding IF architecture and the choice of a suitable frequency plan have been elementary to achieve a power consumption as low as 4.5mW when receiving at 1Mbps, for the example of BLE. This is almost 10 times lower power than the best available solutions today. Such power reduction is key to accelerate the deployment of low power wireless sensor nodes, especially so, in combination with the multi-standard support that enables interoperability and cost reduction. Imec is currently working on the next generation of this radio, as well as on implementations for other low power wireless standards. As these radios become mass deployed further power reduction and an even higher integration level will become needed.

Ultra-low power radios are crucial for the deployment of wireless sensor systems with long autonomy and small size across many markets during the coming years. By carefully designing an energy-efficient architecture, we have realised a record low-power radio that supports multiple wireless standards including BLE, Zigbee and IEEE 802.14.6. We have developed different solutions meeting different application requirements, ranging from industrial, building and home monitoring, to body and personal area networks.

At imec, we believe that the road to the internet-of-everything can only be fuelled by smart circuit design innovation and ultra-low power radios, and we want to be at the forefront of this revolution.

About the authors
Harmke de Groot and Kathleen Philips are with imec/Holst Centre.

To download the PDF version of this article, click here.

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