411 on Near-Field Communications (NFC)

September 6, 2018 at 8:00 AM

 

In this wild world of wireless technology, more and more short range communications standards are being introduced to support all of those wireless devices. As the name suggests, short range communication standards transmit over shorter distances than long range technologies, but they are still quite capable and are ideal for specialized applications. One standard in this short range category is near-field communications (NFC), used for communication between devices and secure payment applications like Apple Pay. In this post we’ll explore all you need to know about NFC and how it might replace your wallet.

 

NFC It is an ultra-short-range technology created for contactless communication between devices. It can be used with phones, tablets and laptops to share data with other NFC-enabled devices. It allows two-way communication without the use of Wi-Fi, 3G, LTE or any other wireless connection. Developed from radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology, NFC is similar in that it uses radio waves, but is limited to approximately 4 inches of communication distance, which is largely viewed as a security benefit and is helping to boost the popularity of NFC. One of the most popular uses is for secure payment applications, like Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay, which transmit mobile payments that are dynamically encrypted.

 

NFC operates on the 13.56 MHz ISM frequency and unlike other short range communications like Bluetooth, NFC doesn’t require any device discovery or pairing to begin transferring data. With NFC, a connection is immediately established when another NFC-enabled device is within the 4-inch operating range. Once a contactless transaction is initiated, the NFC reader and device pass encrypted information back and forth to complete the process in mere seconds – making it not only easy, but much faster than conventional payment and data transfer options.

 

In addition to secure payment applications, there are other uses for the technology too. NFC can be used to transfer lots of other data between NFC-equipped devices. This includes sending a phone number, picture or document, sharing directions, launching an app on someone else’s phone and connecting with NFC tags (small, physical tags that contain NFC chips).

 

With the ease of use and convenience of NFC, soon we might need cash, cards or a wallet much less than we do now, if at all. Even more convenient is the fact that NFC is already installed in many smart phones. For a complete list of NFC-equipped devices, check out this list from NFC world.

  

Short Range Communications: A to Z

July 12, 2018 at 8:00 AM

 

These days, there is more wireless technology in use than ever before. From phones to toys to industrial automation, wireless devices are being used in all sectors, and for good reason. Wireless technology is portable, easy to install, flexible and eliminates the cost of expensive wiring. With the boom of wireless devices, there has also been a surge of wireless protocols and standards to support all of that technology. These include several short range wireless communication technologies that transmit shorter distances than other long range technologies but still pack a punch, which makes them great for certain applications. Here, we’ll take a look at the long list of short range communication standards and technologies to see how they stack up.

 

ANT+

 

ANT and ANT+ are sensor network technologies used for collecting and transferring sensor data and are maintained by the ANT+ Alliance Special Interest Group. This protocol is a type of personal-area network (PAN) that features remarkably low power consumption and long battery life. It divides the 2.4 GHz band into 1 MHz channels and accommodates multiple sensors. ANT+ is primarily used for short-range, low-data-rate sensor applications such as sports monitors, wearables, wellness products, home health monitoring, vehicle tire pressure sensing and in household items that can be controlled remotely such as TVs, lights and appliances.

 


Bluetooth

 

This popular technology is managed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) and is covered by the IEEE 802.15.1 standard. Originally created as an alternative to cabled RS-232, Bluetooth is now used to send data from PANs and fixed and mobile devices. This plug-and-play technology utilizes the 2.4 -2.485 GHz band and has a standard range of 10 meters, but it can extend to 100 meters at maximum power with a clear path. Bluetooth Low Energy has a simpler design and is a direct competitor of ANT+, focusing on health and medical applications.

 

 

 EnOcean

 

This system is self-powered and able to wirelessly transmit data by using ultra-low power consumption and energy collecting technology. Instead of a power supply, EnOcean’s wireless sensor technology collects energy from the air.  Energy from the environment, such as light, pressure, kinetic motion and temperature differences, is harvested and used to transmit a signal up to 30 meters indoors using a very small amount of energy. In the US, EnOcean runs on the 315 MHz and 902 MHz bands. In Europe, it uses the 868 MHz frequency band and in Japan, it operates on the 315 MHz and 928 MHz frequency bands.

 

 

  FirstNet

 

The FirstNet organization is an independent government authority dedicated to providing specialized communication services for first responders. The FirstNet network is the first high-speed, nationwide, wireless broadband network dedicated to public safety. With this network, all emergency workers are able to use one interoperable LTE network devoted solely to keeping them connected. FirstNet uses the 700 MHz spectrum available nationwide and aims to solve interoperability challenges and ensure uninterrupted communication to enhance the safety of communities and first responders.

 

NFC


Near-Field Communications (NFC) is an ultra-short-range technology created for contactless communication between devices. It is often used for secure payment applications, fast passes and similar applications. Operating on the 13.56 MHz ISM frequency, NFC has a maximum range of around 20 cm, which provides a more secure connection that is usually encrypted. Many smart phones already include an NFC tag.

 

 

RFID


Radio-frequency identification (RFID) uses small, flat, cheap tags that can be attached to anything and used for identification, location, tracking and inventory management. When a reader unit is nearby, it transmits a high-power RF signal to the tags and reads the data stored in their memory. Low frequency RFID uses the 125-134 kHz band, high frequency RFID uses the 13.56 MHz ISM band and Ultra-high frequency RFID uses the 125-134 kHz band. With multiple ISO/IEC standards available for RFID, this technology has replaced bar codes in some industries.

 

 

ZigBee


ZigBee is the standard of the ZigBee Alliance. The path of a message in this network zig-zags like a bee, hence the name. It is a software protocol that uses the 802.15.4 transceiver as a base and is meant to be cheaper and simpler than other wireless personal area networks (WPANs), like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. ZigBee is able to build large mesh networks for sensor monitoring, handling up to 65,000 nodes, and it can also support multiple types of radio networks such as point-to-point and point-to-multi-point. It has a data rate of 250 kB/s and can transfer wireless data over a distance of up to 100m. ZigBee can be used for a range of applications including remote patient monitoring, wireless lighting and electrical meters, traffic management systems, consumer TV and factory automation, to name a few.

 

 

Where short range communication lacks in distance, it more than makes up for in versatility and capability, and as we can see there are plenty of options available to support all of your short range application requirements.

 

How Tech is Changing Transportation

April 19, 2018 at 8:00 AM

 

These days, it’s hard to find a part of our everyday lives that’s not being transformed in some way by technology. Transportation is no different. Driverless cars have been at the forefront of most transportation technology discussions lately, but do you know other ways that tech is changing how we get from point A to point B? Here, we’ll take a look at some of the ways technology is changing the transportation industry.

 

Rail

 

Railways are one of the oldest forms of transportation still used today. At their inception, trains were a groundbreaking way for people to get back and forth for everyday commutes, to explore places they’d never been and to transport goods at speeds that were unheard of at the time. Rail systems are still used today for many of the same reasons, but they are much smarter. Today’s rail yards have wired and wireless technology that allows for communication throughout the rail yard to provide security, control and real-time data collection.

 

RFID technology has also been put in place to modernize asset management in rail yard operations. Instead of employees walking from one car to another, manually recording inventory, today’s systems use electronic scanners to record asset information accurately and without the variable of human error. This data is then sent back to a central office where assets can be monitored in real time.

 

Technology is also being used to make rail travel safer by using wayside monitoring applications to record real-time data such as speed, time of passing and track conditions. This critical information is used for real-time scheduling and to generate safety alerts.

 

Roadways

 

Until all of those self-driving cars get on the road, and possibly still after, making roadways safer is another way technology is affecting the transportation industry. In tunnels, cellular and Wi-Fi service are provided by antennas while IP cameras connect to an Ethernet network. These cameras provide real time surveillance to a tunnel control center, so traffic and safety concerns can be monitored live. Digital signs are also connected to the Ethernet network, allowing them to be controlled remotely.

 

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) use wired and wireless technology to control roadway traffic signals and vehicle and pedestrian safety systems. These systems utilize technology to manage traffic flow and ease congestion on the roads. Roadway security and overall safety is also improved with IP cameras and traffic sensors providing live surveillance and control.

 

With the use of wireless technology, roadside digital signs are able to deliver real time messaging along roadways with live updates being delivered from a central control office. These messages can include weather updates, traffic and road condition alerts and information on alternate routes, all of which can make travel easier, more efficient and save lives.

 

Maritime

 

An entire ship, including every part of shipboard communications and surveillance, can be managed via a central management station by using an Ethernet network and Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). 

 

IP cameras are used for monitoring, cables connect propulsion and steering systems to a controller, and antennas allow for voice and data communications and RFID management of cargo containers.

 

To load and unload ships, modern seaport terminals use automated crane systems to save freight companies millions of dollars in labor, maintenance and repairs. Computers are housed in a secure location, connected to Ethernet networks and used to control the cranes. This wireless network allows remote control over operations without the cost of running cables.

 

On the dock, keeping track of personnel, assets and ground support vehicles is made easier with wireless communications. Antennas allow for communication with the central operations command center. They also support Intermodal container RFID tracking systems which enable wireless devices to quickly and accurately process container and inventory information in real-time. With cellular and Wi-Fi communication between crews, freight companies can save money and increase security by eliminating the need for traditional radio communications.

 

For an in-depth look at what L-com products are being used to deliver technology to the transportation industry, click here.

 

Wireless Infrastructure 101

November 23, 2017 at 8:00 AM

 

You would be hard pressed to find a business, industry or home that doesn’t use wireless communication in some way. We depend on wireless networks used by our mobile devices, laptops, tablets and gaming systems to keep us connected, entertained and informed every day. Here, we’ll look at indoor and outdoor wireless infrastructure design considerations.

 

Frequencies

 

For wireless communication to work, radio frequency (RF) and microwaves are used to transmit voice, video and data. Radio frequencies are usually used in wireless networks, they range from 3 kHz to 300 GHz and are also used for AM broadcasting, navigational beacons and shortwave radio. Microwaves range from 300 MHz to 300 GHz and are typically used for television, FM broadcasting, aviation communications, and radar and satellite links. Most home, business and government networks operate on the Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) frequency bands that range from 900 MHz to 5 GHz. The ISM band frequencies incorporate many of the IEEE 802.11wireless standards.

 


Design Considerations

 

When designing a wireless network, you must always take into consideration the environmental variables in the installation area that will or could affect network performance.

 


Indoor RF Wireless Networks

 

During installation or expansion, indoor networks present a special set of factors to consider. Most wireless access points and routers have a typical range capability specified by the manufacturer. But these ranges are based on having clear line of sight, which requires an unobstructed view of the antenna from the remote point in the link. Unfortunately, this is not the case in most indoor installations, there is usually some type of obstacle present. For example, signals typically will not penetrate concrete walls and the other building materials such as metal studs, aluminum siding, foil-backed insulation, pipes, electrical wiring and furniture. All of these common obstacles can reduce signal range and affect the coverage area. Plus, other wireless equipment such as cordless phones, microwave ovens, radio transmitters and electrical equipment can cause interference and decrease the signal range.

 


Outdoor RF Wireless Networks

 

Outdoor wireless networks face many of the same challenges as indoor networks, such as reflections and multipath. Having a clear line of sight is also critical for an outdoor network, trees and leaves can obstruct 802.11 frequencies and block the signal completely. A site survey is recommended before an outdoor wireless network is deployed, it might also be necessary to clear obstacles.

 

To help you plan and design your wireless network, we offer a series of wireless calculators to get you started.

The ISM Band Frequency Dilemma: Which One is Right for You?

January 23, 2014 at 10:00 AM

 

The FCC allocates different frequencies for different purposes, and each has its own advantages. In the US, 900, 2400 and 5000 MHz frequency bands are set aside by the FCC for unlicensed Industrial, Scientific and Medical (ISM) applications. The lack of licensing requirements has greatly encouraged the growth of the wireless industry. These bands are used for consumer and commercial WiFi and WLAN applications as well as for commercial Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) and Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) applications. Here are some highlights of each ISM band frequency for you to consider:


900 MHz

900 MHz 9 dBi Yagi Antenna

The 900 MHz ISM band is known to be very narrow, thus limiting the maximum data rates. Typically applications such as SCADA and RFID use the 900 MHz ISM band since their data rate requirements are lower than applications found in the 2.4-5 GHz frequency bands. Many times the type of data packets being sent in these types of applications is a simple on /off command to something like a motor or value.

 

When obstructions such as trees and leaves are in the Line of Sight (LOS), the 900 MHz frequency will fare better than 2.4 GHz. The 2.4 GHz frequency is absorbed by water found in trees and leaves, which then causes path loss of the 2.4 GHz transmission. 900 MHz is often used in Non-Line-Of-Sight (NLOS) applications.

 

 

2.4 GHz

WiFi Grid Antenna

For the home user and commercial businesses, 2.4 GHz ISM Band is the primary band used for WiFi, Bluetooth, cordless phone, printer, keyboard, mouse and gaming controller applications. Voice, video and data communications are also typically used in 2.4 GHz systems where higher data rates are required (up to 300 Mbps for 802.11n applications).

 

2.4 GHz is the most widely used frequency (especially since it includes devices like microwave ovens, baby monitors, cordless phones etc.) and in some cases may even be overcrowded. When too much overcrowding occurs, your WiFi network signal may be weak or not work at all. In some cases it's best to use 5 GHz backhaul links to connect 2.4 GHz WiFi networks as 5 GHz is a less crowded frequency.

 

 

5 GHz

5.8 GHz Sectorized Antenna Array with four 90°  Sectorial Antennas

The 5 GHz frequency is often used in commercial WiFi applications. As mentioned above, it is often used as a backhaul link connecting two 2.4 GHz systems over some distance. 5 GHz is also the frequency used for the emerging standard 802.11ac which will provide up to 1.3 Gbps of wireless data throughput. Additionally, 802.11n can also use the 5 GHz frequency.

 

 

 

 

For more information about US Frequency Allocations, click here.

 

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