Press the "Find Me" button on the TV set or set top box and the missing remote starts beeping or flashing (see figure), making it easy to find no matter where in the house it is hiding.
Benefits for service providers
Cable companies and service providers are looking for new options to sell services. Battling in a very competitive and commoditized marketplace, the ability to provide and charge for a wide range of services is a very attractive option for them. Since the end of 2009, cable companies and service providers have been rolling out test projects to see if this new market model will work for them and for their customers.
The new push-messaging feature allows for a variety of new remote-control capabilities including tele-voting and gaming, personal messages and reminders, real-time sports results, stock information and residential sensor network monitoring. Push-messaging also enables operators to create new opportunities for advertising revenues via server-initiated commercial push messages on the consumers’ remote control.
Maintaining the green
One of the biggest challenges that consumers and service providers will have in the future
is maintaining a wide range of sensor and control devices located throughout the smart home. For ease of use and installation, it makes much more sense to have these powered by either batteries or by energy harvesting technologies. Unfortunately, energy harvesting is still in its early phases and solutions are too expensive for wide deployment. Batteries are widely available but often require changing or recharging.
Filled with hazardous chemicals and heavy metals, batteries create a dangerous threat to our environment during manufacturing, distribution and disposal. In addition, the actual mining process to obtain the raw ingredients, as well as the industrial manufacturing processes, requires a lot of energy, water, and chemicals, thereby realizing a large carbon footprint.
There are ways to greatly cut down the requirement of using batteries while preserving batteries' ease of use and ease of installation. The solution is a wireless network with such a low energy requirement that batteries never need changing or only require changing every several years. A low-power wireless network, based on IEEE 802.15.4 and ZigBee RF4CE provides this option.
How to design an ultra-low-power wireless network?
Last year, the ZigBee Alliance partnered with several of the largest consumer electronics companies in the world to form ZigBee RF4CE. This industry partnership signaled the development of an entire new generation of remote control devices – for TVs, for home and office automation, for many other types of remote control products that communicate via low power RF instead of the decades old IR (infrared).
It all comes down to the design of the radio chip that runs the wireless network. By using a communication controller centric chip design instead of a microcontroller centric design (MCU), along with synchronized wake-ups, it is possible to reduce overall power consumption by 65% or more.
Most low-power processor-centric radio designs require a microcontroller to handle all of the intelligence for the transceiver. This requires the microcontroller to be awake the entire time. By using a more energy efficient communication controller approach, the transceiver can transmit and receive the data independently from the microprocessor. Thus the microprocessor is only awakened and used when it is needed to further process the data.
Synchronizing the wake ups means that the communications controller decides when to wake up and check for messages. The device can be off most of the time, thereby greatly reducing overall energy consumption. This is especially effective for the home's various environmental, security, and location sensors.
By using a hardware-based scheduler and synchronizer within the chip itself, the radio only wakes up as needed to see if there is any data that needs to be sent. If not, it returns to sleep. If there is data, the controller wakes up the microcontroller. The chip then communicates the information and then goes back to sleep until the next time it is scheduled to wake. 9999 times out of 10,000 – there is no message to be sent and the controller does not need to energize the microprocessor. Every time that data is sent, the chips also transmit a synchronization message to ensure that they all wake up together on the next duty cycle.
Because of these power savings, instead of having to change batteries every six months or a year, it is now possible to have devices that will run for a decade or more or a single watch-type cell battery.
The age of the smart and green home network is coming. For decades, people have been talking about the new "connected" home, but until now there has not been effective drivers - except for those early innovators who demand new and cool. However, with the potential of marketing new services for cable companies and service providers, as well as the power and ecological advantages of ultra-low-power wireless, that day is here. These products are in the process of being rolled out and within a short time should become commonplace.
About the Author: Cees Links is a pioneer of the wireless LAN industry, a visionary leader bringing the world of mobile computing and continuous networking together. With his leadership, the first wireless LANs were developed which ultimately became house-hold technology integrated into the PCs and notebooks we all use today. His group also pioneered the development of access points, home-networking routers and hot-spot base stations, all widely used today.
@RF/Memory Editor (Janine): I too would like to see more application oriented articles.
My personal opinion on home area network (HAN) devices: I have to agree with @EllySchietse above, appliances such as RF4CE set top boxes are over kill. The primary motivation is to save energy bills, the secondary ones come from networking other things within a home, like security, weather stations, leak detection, etc.
The consumer sentiment is quite clear, every one wants to save energy but they do not want to manage with all the gadgets and things. This is NOT the same thing as a smart phone. Consumers care about energy bills once a month when it is due! They do not want to
Does ZigBee RF4CE comply with OSHAN (Open Source Home Area Network, does any one know?
Reaction on Sansfil’s comment:
In about 95% of the Wi-Fi installations at home just one router/gateway is enough to cover the whole house (depending on the size). ZigBee RF4CE and Wi-Fi are very comparable in range/coverage – so in 95% of the cases ZigBee RF4CE covers the whole house as well. Mesh technology of ZigBee PRO can solve this last 5% problem, but everything comes at a price... a ZigBee PRO remote control is hard to justify in the market.
While I agree that RF4CE is an ideal technology for home entertainment control, it is not suited for general control of devices in your home. The reason is that it is a point-to-multipoint protocol and that its physical layer needs around 20 dBm output power to ensure whole house coverage. This is needed on both sides of the link and can that kind of power can not be delivered from a coin cell or any other consumer battery.
The Home Automation and Smart Energy protocols from the ZigBee Alliance are based on the ZigBee PRO stack which gives mesh networking capabilities. This means that mains powered devices around the house like lamps can be used to effectively route packets between low power nodes. Whole house coverage is then ensured thorugh multiple hops rather than high outptut power radios.
This is a different type of application-based article for the site. I'm thinking of a new series of articles under the umbrella: RF in Action. Would you like to see more application based articles (in addition to the regular complement of design features)? Janine Love, Microwave & RF Designline editor.