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Wireless sensor networks need "killer" app

Posted: 20 Jun 2008     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wireless sensor networks  licence-free bands  energy scavenging technologies  WSN 

Due to the lack of a 'killer application' to drive interest, wireless sensor networks are not being fully utilised in commercial markets, a Plextek led report for U.K. communications industry regulator Ofcom has concluded.

The 10-month study was commissioned to examine technology developments in wireless sensor networks, along with likely market growth scenarios and what the spectrum implications would be.

England's Plextek worked with the University of St Andrews and TWI, a Cambridge based independent research and technology organisation, on the study, which found that it is the traditional sensing applications that are currently commercially exploiting the advantages of wirelessly networked sensors.

The report suggests WSNs may begin to become more widely deployed over the next three to five years, with systems continuing to adopt existing licence-free bands including 13.56MHz, 433MHz, 868MHz and 2.4GHz. The main issue for WSNs will be the crowding of bands, especially 2.4GHz with the increasing use of Wi-Fi.

Ofcom commissioned the study as part of its "Tomorrow's Wireless World" R&D programme into the future of communications technology.

"Our research produced some very interesting conclusions," said Steve Methley, senior consultant at Plextek. "The lack of a killer application may be due to limiting factors such as the current cost of wireless nodes and a lack of understanding/experience by end users, especially regarding 'real—world' reliability."

Methley added there is also a need for further improvements in batteries and energy scavenging technologies.

"One likely sign of a movement towards a killer application would be the involvement of major systems integrators. Such players will increasingly come on board when there is need to take a professional approach to defining, installing and maintaining substantial wireless sensor networks," said Methley.

The group also says that while existing unlicensed spectrum can adequately support WSNs, "a dramatic increase in use could prove problematic."

Typical radio protocols such as the popular 802.15.4 standard are designed to be polite and to check for clear channels before transmitting, the study notes. This may become a problem when bands become crowded. 802.15.4 suffers due to its politeness in the face of increasing Wi-Fi usage, particularly Wi-Fi streaming applications. This may lead to the appearance that WSNs are unreliable, an especially important issue as the perception of unreliability is one of the key barriers identified for WSN adoption.

- John Walko
EE Times Europe

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