Xecom Inc. has expanded its embedded modem products into the wireless realm with a family of 900MHz transceiver modules that use frequency-hopping spread-spectrum technology to boost the communications range.
The launch is aimed at the nacsent market for remote monitoring of networked machines and instruments in myriad environments. Xecom said its XE900S modules--which embed a microcontroller, RF transceiver chip, and firmware--are suited for such applications as cashless vending machines and laundromats, medical monitors, and utility meters.
"There are a lot of applications oriented around inventory control and service," said Peter McIntyre, vice president of marketing and sales at Xecom, Milpitas, Calif. "One of the big expenses is servicing those units. While one benefit might be reducing the number of times a technician is sent out, it's worse to have a Coke machine without Diet Coke than to have a service person show up twice a day."
The idea of networking industrial equipment has been around for many years, but adoption has been slow. Operators of laundromats, for example, are generally not early technology adopters, McIntyre said.
The cost of installing wired communications links has also been a barrier. But with wireless access becoming inexpensive, Xecom expects momentum to build.
Where the company hopes to make its mark is in providing complete RF designs, along with FCC certification, for OEMs that lack RF experience, McIntyre said.
Competition consists primarily of small, venture capital-funded companies. So far, large companies like Motorola and Texas Instruments that possess both the controller and RF technology haven't been in direct competition, he said.
Xecom initially has chosen to work in the 900MHz ISM band, which is used widely in the United States for cordless phones. Though McIntyre said the opportunity is largest in North America, Xecom has a product in development for the 2.4GHz range--used for Bluetooth and wireless LANs--to address applications in other regions.
With many potential uses it is difficult to size up the available market. A conservative estimate of vending machines sold worldwide is about 750,000 units a year, although the upgrade market is closer to 50 million units, according to Xecom.
Quoting research by Michigan State University, McIntyre said the number of cashless vending systems is expected to increase 25% a year. "If they go cashless, they will also want to go wireless," he said.
Xecom's XE900S family features the company's SensorOnAir technology, which eliminates the need for an application controller by allowing direct connection of sensors and control lines to the communications controller in the XE900S.
Other features include Count-Off, which allows the master node to check the status of all remote nodes--up to 253--in less than 10 seconds.
Xecom's XE900S-500 has output power of 500mW, permitting a range of 1,500 feet in obstructed settings, or as much as 20 miles line-of-sight. The 10mW output of the XE900S-10 and XE900SL10 provide a 200ft. obstructed range and 2 miles unobstructed, according to the company.
The XE900S-500 and S-10 modules measure 1.295 x 1.41 x 0.255in., while the SL-10 is 1 x 1 x 0.26in. Volume pricing is $39 for the S-500 and $19.95 for the S-10 and SL-10.