Wirepas Develops Non-cellular Technology for IoT

Article By : John Walko

Wirepas is using a well-established but updated technology for wider deployment of industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) networks.

A small Finnish company focusing on wireless connectivity has developed what it describes as a purpose built, non-cellular 5G technology that it suggests will remove most of the obstacles holding back wider deployment of industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) networks.

Wirepas is using a well-established but updated technology – the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI)-specified DECT-2020 NR (New Radio) standard. This uses a portion of the unlicensed 1.9 GHz spectrum, assigned to DECT two decades ago for use in applications such as digital cordless handsets.

Wirepas Private 5G

The new standard was finalised last October and is expected to be included in the upcoming review by the ITU of the IMT-2020 5G specifications. It was devised such that it could be deployed for a broad and diverse range of IoT applications at the physical layer and address numerous frequency bands below 6 GHz, but is likely to be used initially in networks operating at 1.9 GHz.

Wirepas was a major contributor to establishing the DECT-2020 NR. It is set to support a wide range of wireless IoT and IIoT use cases that require both ultra-reliable and low-latency communications.

Asked why the wireless sector needs another – and a non-cellular – standard, Teppo Hemiä, CEO of the Tampere, Finland-based company, told EE Times Europe, “there is an obvious gap and need for such a radio technology that is affordable for enterprises, is scalable, and which will not be controlled by the established cellular communications operators.

“Independence and autonomy in setting up and running such a network is a key differential. There will be no separate infrastructure, no middlemen, and no high subscription fees. Basically, the management of the network is delegated to the devices themselves.”

Hemiä noted that “there is a common misapprehension in the industry that 5G equals the 3GPP. This is not so. It is the ITU-R, the highest level of wireless regulatory body, that has the final say in these matters.”

He adds that the new product, dubbed Wirepas Private 5G, is based on a decentralized, plug-and-play network topology using the company’s software protocols and licensing model. This is different from the established IoT and IIot cellular models such as the low power wide area networks (LPWAN) technologies and narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) offered by companies such as Sigfox, or LoRA.

“These likely will offer higher performance, but will cost much more to operate and manage.”

A network based on the new standard is said ‘to build itself’, and each device is as capable as a regular base station.

According to Hemiä, “time, complexity and cost have stood in the way for a wide adoption of 5G IoT. We are paving the way for a true adoption of the technology, beyond cellular solutions.”

And combining the company’s decentralised approach with the global, license-free, dedicated 1.9 GHz means all these benefits could become truly mainstream and easy to use.

“The 1.9 GHz spectrum is an excellent resource. If you could, you would choose that for such an ambitious project,” Hemiä said.

He believes the ‘sweet spots’ for the Wirepas Private 5G are initially likely to be smart metering and building management applications, such as emergency lighting and smoke detectors, as well as asset tracking.

Networks are expected to be available within a year, and the new product builds on the experience gained from the existing product, Wirepas Massive, sometimes referred to as Wirepas Mesh.

Wirepas’ CEO Teppo Hemiä

This is a hardware independent radio protocol for decentralised networking that is already supporting numerous large – scale IoT and IIoT applications using the 2.4 GHz spectrum, and can connect potentially billions of devices.

“We will be starting later this year with field trials with our next generation system, and are busy building up the necessary ecosystem of partners such as silicon providers and sensor suppliers. That effort of organising and building such an ecosystem and momentum will be vital, and we are aware it can be a long and hard haul. Thus, we anticipate that for the near future we will be relying on the existing products for income,” said Hemiä.

He added he was encouraged that late last month VTT, the Finnish Technical Research Centre, using a specially devised simulation platform, proved the performance and scalability of networks based on the DECT-2020 NR protocol for massive machine type communications and its suitability as a candidate for inclusion in 5G.

The simulation tests also showed that the DECT-2020 NR has good power consumption and coverage capabilities, and that it is capable of deployment in varying user node densities due to the type of mesh network technology involved.

VTT noted that the 5G standard requires at least a million user nodes per square km, and the transmission of one packet in two hours per device.

These parameters are extremely stringent and required VTT to push the boundaries of their simulation software and hardware platforms.

A spin-out of research carried out at the University of Tampere, a world-renowned centre for mobile communications R&D, Wirepas has raised over €35 million from mostly European venture capital groups, and currently employs 50 people, said Hemiä.

He also reminisces that the University, together with his previous employer Nokia and a couple of Finnish operators, were the first to conduct a GSM call.

This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.

John Walko is a technology writer and editor who has been covering the electronics industry since the early 1980s. He started tracking the sector while working on one of the UK’s oldest weekly technology titles, The Engineer, then moved to CMP’s flagship UK weekly, Electronics Times, in a variety of roles including news deputy and finally editor in chief. He then joined the online world when CMP started the EDTN Network, where he edited the daily electronics feed and was founding editor of commsdesign.com (which, over the years, has become the Wireless and Networking Designline). He was editor of EE Times Europe at its launch and subsequently held various positions on EE Times, in the latter years, covering the growing wireless and mobile sectors.

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