Jennic senses IP wireless sensor net opportunity

LONDON — Wireless communications chip and software developer Jennic (Sheffield, England) has started sampling a networking stack for the 6LoWPAN low-power wireless Internet Protocol specification, extending the reach of its offerings for the IEEE 802.15.4 networking standard.

The software has been embedded into Jennic's JN5139 wireless microcontroller, which integrates a 2.4GHz IEEE802.15.4 transceiver and a 32-bit processor core, with sufficient memory remaining to run application software.

An evaluation kit for the emerging 6loWPAN specification will be available in the third quarter, says Jennic.

The 6LoWPAN stack supports simple star networks, or can be run on top of Jennic's JenNet stack that provides self-healing cluster tree networking capability, with automatic route formation and repair. The power consumption of 6LoWPAN is a fraction of Wi-Fi, so that products such as heating controls, security sensors, patient monitoring equipment, process controllers and sensors, can be IP-enabled with multi-year battery life expectancy.

6LoWPAN was devised by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and was ratified late last year. It is one of the first standards that bring native Internet Protocol to individual embedded devices such as wireless sensor nodes, allowing such devices to communicate directly with any other IP device on the network.

The numerical reference in 6LoWPAN alludes to the fact that the standard will allow transport of both IPv4 and IPv6 packets over low-power 802.15.4 radio networks, allowing richer Transmission Control Protocol/IP and User Datagram Protocol/IP options than such networks as ZigBee or SP100.

It adds several small adjuncts to the 802.15.4 header. All packets will add a single-bit network-coexistence frame and a frame for header compression.

According to Jennic's CEO, Jim Lindop, :”6LoWPAN will have widespread appeal to companies in building control, industrial automation, medical and consumer markets where they have pre-existing IP systems. Developers will be able to use their knowledge of IP to build low power wireless products that seamlessly integrate into existing IP networks. The extension into low power wireless is a logical progression, and will undoubtedly give rise to a wealth of applications that were previously unrealizable”.

Lindop told EE Times Europe there are already a couple of companies, mainly in the industrial and building control market, that are offering products based on 6LoWPAN, “and we are the first semiconductor supplier with a single-chip device.” He notes these markets “include a plethora of proprietary solutions, and moving to IP creates a huge opportunity.”

Other companies that are involved include US company Arch Rock, and Finnish start-up Sensinode, which links its wireless sensor technology to TI's microcontrollers.

Lindop said Jennic would, over time, gain as much in revenues from 6LoWPAN applications as from ZigBee. “I believe the sector has made a few strategic errors in the way ZigBee has been brought to market, in part by trying too soon to connect hundreds of wireless nodes, by not getting robust products to market quickly enough, and in signalling that an enhanced PRO version would soon be out. That meant customers were delaying mass deployments until that version was out.”

However, Lindop added that ZigBee is now ready for that mass deplyment phase, “and we will see real , commercial volumes next year.”

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