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Embracing wireless BAN technology

Posted: 05 Dec 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:BAN  body area networks  health care 

Today, a BAN can be implemented using several wireless connectivity standards, such as Bluetooth, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, ANT or Bluetooth Low Energy. Those wireless connectivity standards were not originally developed for BAN applications, however.

The accompanying table depicts the original target applications for certain standards. While several standards carry additional overhead and therefore don't generally meet the peak power (current) consumption requirements of less than 3 mA for wearable BAN devices, standards bodies and industry groups have implemented health-care-specific initiatives to meet BAN requirements.


Table 1: Standards and their original target applications.

BAN systems can also be implemented using proprietary solutions from various vendors. Such systems often use different operating frequencies (depending on the country of operation) and aren't interoperable. On the other hand, proprietary solutions allow BANs to be tailored to specific needs and may offer better characteristics—for example, lower power consumption—than public wireless standards provide.

To develop a communication standard optimised for low-power devices that is suitable for BAN applications, the IEEE launched IEEE 802.15 Task Group 6 (BAN) to develop the IEEE 802.15.6 standard in 2007. IEEE 802.15.6 offers several advantages over existing standards. It focuses on short distances, reduced cost and power consumption, and lower implementation complexity. The IEEE 802.15.6 standard defines the physical (PHY) layer as well as the media access control (MAC) protocol and the security layers.

Architectural details

Figure 2 describes the IEEE 802.15.6 architecture. It is comprised of a PHY layer and a common MAC and security layer.

The PHY layer is divided into three frequency bands in order to address the diverse data rate requirements imposed by medical and consumer applications: narrowband, ultra wideband and human body communications band. It targets a distance of three meters while supporting data rates varying between 100 kbit/second and 1 Mbit/s, with a peak power consumption of 3 mA. The MAC protocol controls access to the channel.

The standard has also defined three levels of security: level zero, for unsecured communication; level one, for authentication only; and level two, for both authentication and encryption.

 IEEE 802.15.6 architecture

Figure 2: High level overview of the IEEE 802.15.6 architecture.

Wireless BAN technology is gaining momentum thanks to several factors, among them the emergence of the IEEE 802.15.6 standard. Given continued trends in the development of low-power and low-cost CMOS radios and the drive for more information, the BAN market is expected to grow significantly.

Patient and consumer health applications will remain key drivers for BANs. But expect other applications, such as industrial and agricultural monitoring, to emerge as the technology evolves.

- Iboun Taimiya Sylla
  Business Development Manager
  Texas Instruments Inc.

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