University Researchers Develop Low-Cost, Low-Power mmWave IoT Network

Researchers at the University of Waterloo, Ontario claim to have cut the costs and power requirements for millimeter wave networks used for Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

Millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies have been one of the building blocks of 5G networks so far. It uses much higher spectrum than current 3G and 4G networks, with most early 5G mmWave networks using 28GHz or 39GHz frequencies. Current 5G mmWave networks from AT&T and Verizon can deliver downloads of a gigabit per second.

The aim of the Waterloo University project is to apply the large swath of unlicensed mmWave spectrum for IoT uses. For instance, in November 2017, the FCC voted to open up a massive band of nearly 7GHz of unlicensed spectrum in the 64GHz to 72GHz range. The Waterloo researchers say there is more than 200 times the amount of unlicensed mmWave spectrum available than what's available for current cellular and WiFi networks.

"To address the existing challenges in exploiting mmWave for IoT applications we created a novel mmWave network called mmX," said Omid Abari, an assistant professor in Waterloo's David R. Cheriton School of Computer Science, in a recent statement. He added, "mmX significantly reduces cost and power consumption of a mmWave network enabling its use in all IoT applications."

The researchers are basing the work on the low-cost Raspberry Pi processor, according to a paper about the work. "mmX introduces the first mmWave low-power hardware platform which operates as a daughterboard for RasberryPi," they say.

The work involves using a different modulation scheme than the standard -- and expensive -- phased array set-ups. "mmX introduces OTAM, a novel technique to modulate the signal over the air. OTAM eliminates the need for costly phased array and beam searching techniques, making adaptation of mmWave communication easier and less costly," the rearchers say.

The download speeds of mmX are also decreased, as gigabit speeds are not needed for IoT applications. The researchers say that mmX can deliver 100 Mbit/s over 24GHz at a range of 18 meters at a production cost of $110.

mmX Comparisons
(Source: A Millimeter Wave Network for Billions of Things, University of Waterloo)
(Source: A Millimeter Wave Network for Billions of Things, University of Waterloo)

Why this matters
The researchers say that mmX can be used in sensors for industrial and home IoT. Lowering the cost and power consumption of mmWave, however, does not drastically increase the coverage range of the technology (typically 1,000 to 2,000 feet), which limits the types of IoT applications millimeter wave frequencies can be used for.

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— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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