According to a recent report from IDC, the number of connected devices used globally will reach 41.6 billion by the end of 2025. The IoT world continues to expand and develop at a rapid pace, so what trends should we expect in the IoT in 2020? Here are a few of our predictions for the upcoming year.

Prediction #1: 5G will enable more growth for Bluetooth devices such as beacons, asset tracking, sensing, tags and locationing.
There’s been a lot of hype and excitement around 5G, but what hasn’t been discussed much is how 5G will impact the market for Bluetooth devices. For large IoT deployments, Bluetooth and 5G will play pivotal roles in connecting devices at different points in a system. For example, a network of sensors in a factory can communicate with each other using Bluetooth Mesh technology. Atmosic chooses Bluetooth 5.0 as its platform of choice because Bluetooth connectivity is ideal for devices that require mid-range, low power operation and extended battery life. These devices can connect to a gateway point that is also connected with 5G, enabling the gateway to take advantage of the ultra-fast speeds of 5G to send information to the cloud or a server over longer range.

Prediction #2: Always on, always connected edge processing devices will demand low-power extended battery life.
As the number of IoT edge devices grows, the trend continues towards true “wireless” (i.e., no power line or data line). Edge processing will allow connected devices to process information faster for a more seamless user experience. Edge processing capabilities are especially true for connected devices that process sounds, motion or other types of inputs for sensing, tracking, remote access, wearables and mobile accessories such as audio headsets. These devices need to be always on, always connected to instantly process information without the latency involved in connecting to central nodes on a network. As a result of more processing being pushed to the edge, battery life is becoming more and more critical. Connection and processing elements need to be very low power for these devices to operate efficiently. Atmosic enables very Low Power Wireless and On-Demand Wake Up receivers to conserve energy to enable battery-free or forever battery devices. Extended battery life, in turn, will support more smart devices at the edge. We will see a growing need for embedded solutions that enable low-power and extended battery life so edge devices will not require frequent battery changes.

Prediction #3: More connected devices will use energy harvesting to prolong battery life.
With an increase in 5G and edge processing devices, extended battery life and energy harvesting will become significantly more critical. Atmosic’s M3 SoC solution enables energy harvesting technologies that can pull power from ambient photovoltaic (light), radio frequency (RF), and thermal sources, and mechanical (motion). We begin to see energy harvesting used for connected devices that don’t require significant power; devices such as indoor locationing beacons might use indoor lighting sources for energy, while smart light switches might use motion power. Beyond these, we will see more products featuring “battery-free life” technologies. Devices that use energy harvesting will allow consumers to enjoy their favorite smart home devices without worrying about changing batteries as often. However, industrial use of these energy harvesting solutions will be the real game-changer. Devices with extended battery life or without the need of any batteries will significantly reduce deployment and maintenance costs for IoT fleets, while also reducing the environmental impact of batteries.

Looking forward to 2020, Atmosic is focused on driving the battery-free IoT revolution with its lowest-power Bluetooth and controlled energy harvesting technologies. Atmosic’s M2 and M3 solutions enable extended battery life and battery-free operation for IoT devices used for a wide variety of applications. The company is committed to innovation and will continue to create new solutions to reduce the environmental impact of batteries and decrease the cost of battery maintenance, thereby benefitting the planet, consumers, and the IoT industry.

I visited the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican many years ago.  After all these years, my most vivid impression was not the amazing painting but the noise level inside the chapel.  The tourists were so loud that the guard had to clap his hands to silence the crowd! After a momentary silence, the whispering would start.  When everybody was whispering, you’d have to raise your voice to be heard. Within a minute, the guard would clap again.

The RF environment of many public places has turned into the comparable noise levels of the Sistine Chapel because of the widespread deployment of Bluetooth® technology. Recently, I was at an airport attempting to pair a new Bluetooth device to my phone.  It took some effort to find my desired device because there were so many other devices.   Today, we will frequently find tens and even hundreds of Bluetooth devices around us.  For these Bluetooth devices to find each other conveniently, each device may transmit a beacon every 100ms to 1s, 24 hours a day.    The interval of the beacon is typically determined by how quickly the device wants to be heard.  The ubiquitous adoption of Bluetooth beacons creates quite noisy RF environments around us.   Similar to the Sistine Chapel, for a Bluetooth device to be heard over the noisy background, it may talk louder by increasing transmit power or talk more frequently by increasing the beacon frequency.   Both of these approaches can further degrade the background noise level.  In addition to contributing to the unnecessary RF chatter, a higher power and more frequent Bluetooth beacon will reduce the battery life of IoT devices.

The Atmosic M2 series provides an on-demand wakeup feature to reduce the need for frequent transmit beacons, and thereby improve battery life.  With this approach, IoT wireless devices that communicate infrequently can stay in sleep mode unless they have data to transmit. The M2 series supports two wakeup modes: mid-range wakeup and long-range wakeup.

Mid-range wakeup features an ultra-low power wakeup receiver operating asynchronously. This hundreds-nano-amp wakeup receiver continuously scans for a pre-determined incoming RF paging signal.  Once the paging signal is detected, the wakeup receiver will turn on the primary Bluetooth radio to perform either a transmit or receive operation.  With an asynchronous wakeup receiver, the overall power consumption can be significantly lower than the traditional beacon.  For example, a device that beacons once a second would be transmitting over 80,000 times a day, independent of any real data transfer.   A low-duty cycle device, such as a door sensor, can reduce its actual transmission to as needed only, easily 100 times less frequently, which significantly extends its battery life.

Long-range wakeup utilizes Atmosic’s ultra-low power full function primary receiver at a preset duty cycle.  For example, a device may turn on for 1ms every second, consuming an average receiver power of less than 1 microamp, while providing the range or coverage similar to that of Wi-Fi. For a crowded environment, such as a warehouse, this long-range wakeup feature provides a very low power and low interference alternative to frequent and loud beaconing.

Imagine a world of wireless devices that only transmit when they truly have information to communicate, at rest at all other times.  We can dramatically extend the battery life of all these devices as well as lower the unnecessary background RF chatter.  Now, if only someone can figure out a good way to reduce all that tourist chatter inside the Sistine Chapel.

A 2018 study from ABI Research predicted there will be 35+ billion connected Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices worldwide by 2023. 35+ billion is a very large number! The IoT world, consisting of various industrial, business, automotive, healthcare, home and personal connected devices, will soon have an amazingly large number of connected and increasingly smart “things”. With the start of a new year, what can we expect of IoT in 2019? Let’s take a look.

Prediction #1: Power consumption of devices will continue to drop.
With so many devices connected to the IoT, one of the primary areas of focus this year will be finding effective ways to create sustainable power to enable the industry vision of widespread IoT implementation. Lower power consumption in IoT devices through enhanced design techniques, process technology scaling and improvement, and design optimization of customized functions will be a major area of innovation focus. For example, Atmosic’s Lowest Power Radio is implemented on the Bluetooth® 5 platform, achieving radically lower power than competitive solutions, while maintaining full standards compliance. We will see low power be an increasingly differentiated advantage in IoT applications, providing reduced maintenance cost and hassle.

Prediction #2: Battery life will continue to improve.
Lower power consumption leads to longer battery life. In addition, architectural enhancements will further extend battery life. Atmosic’s on-demand wakeup receiver is an example of a system-level optimization to reduce the average power consumption of Bluetooth solutions. Our wakeup receiver provides the lowest level of “radio consciousness” that is sufficient to perceive incoming transmissions, waking up the higher power-consuming primary radio only when requested. Such a technique of refining a device’s wake and sleep cycles can dramatically extend the battery life.

Prediction #3: Forever battery life will become a reality.
Radical reduction of power will ultimately lead to forever battery life. We will see portable devices in which the batteries will last the duration of the product’s life. With this decrease in power consumption, even disposable batteries will supply enough energy to last the entire lifespan of numerous IoT devices, reducing battery waste and maintenance.

Prediction #4: Energy harvesting will enable battery-free devices.
Another major trend we will see in the upcoming year is the more robust implementation of energy harvesting for IoT, using RF, photovoltaic, and motion power to create “forever battery life” and “battery-free” devices. RF energy harvesting—in combination with Atmosic’s ultra-low-power radio—will be a viable solution to power low duty-cycle IoT devices without the use of batteries or power cords.

When Wi-Fi was in its infancy, I never envisioned it would become the pervasive wireless communication that connects billions of devices. Wireless connectivity has indeed freed our electronic devices from the Ethernet cable.  However, these devices still require power cords or battery power. In fact, many of the billions of connected IoT devices today, especially those with low power consumption, are increasingly powered by disposable batteries. This byproduct of ubiquitous low-power wireless connectivity is evident in our local stores. It was not that long ago that an 8-pack of AA batteries at our local retail store was considered a bulk package. Today, we can buy 72-pack AA and AAA Batteries! We have unwittingly become avid consumers of batteries. In fact, we are consuming billions of batteries every year for key fobs, door locks, sensors, remotes, computer mice and keyboards, beacons, wearables, and more.

At Atmosic Technologies, our team, who spent the last decades creating ubiquitous embedded wireless connectivity, is taking a fresh look at redefining battery life for wirelessly connected devices. Our vision is to extend and, in some cases, eliminate our reliance on batteries. To extend battery life of a device, the obvious choice is to lower its power consumption. Starting from a clean slate, the Atmosic team has rebuilt every circuit block of the radio to dramatically reduce its power consumption, while maintaining full compliance to the Bluetooth 5 standard. Our team has also created system-level advancements to further extend battery life. Combining circuit-level and system-level innovations, we can reduce the power consumption to such a low level that energy harvesting is a genuinely viable power source, enabling low-duty cycle, low-power applications to have forever battery life or be battery free.

When does a pipe dream become reality? I recall during the early days of Wi-Fi development, its range and data rates were considered to be too inferior to ever replace the Ethernet cable. Two decades later, Wi-Fi is my preferred internet connection both at home and the office. A new generation of teenagers has grown up never needing an Ethernet cable; many of them don’t even know what one is. For them, Wi-Fi and internet are synonymous. I believe there is a similar journey ahead with forever battery or battery free devices. As engineers continue to push the envelope of low-power design and energy harvesting, more devices and applications will benefit from significantly longer battery life and battery free operation. I am sure this technology will enable new use cases and applications that are yet to be invented.

In the meantime, it is good to remember that the cost of portable devices seldom ends with the initial purchase. Much like LED light bulbs, lower power devices that have significantly longer battery life will reduce our overall ownership cost. The next time we buy that 72-pack of AA batteries at the local store, we should ask ourselves if any of our battery-operated devices should also be upgraded to newer and lower power models.