Utilizing Wireless Networking In Your Sensor Application

Sensors Insights by Cristin Dziekonski

Wireless modules are now more reliable, power efficient, and more cost effective than ever, and require less development time to implement. Utilizing these solutions in sensor applications presents new opportunities for manufacturers.

Here are six key benefits of integrating wireless connectivity into your sensor application.

1. Increase installation flexibility: There are some places where it just isn't possible to run a wire, whether due to physical constraints, cost, etc. A wireless module, potentially also paired with a battery, can enable sensing in places where a wired installation is impractical.

2. Reduce installation costs: In both new installations and retrofits, the cost of installing wires to connect a network of sensors can equal or exceed the cost of the sensors themselves. A wireless network can enable sensors to be installed and commissioned in a quick, cost-effective manner.

3. Additional functionality: The addition of a low power wireless transceiver can facilitate new use cases for your sensor. Utilizing Bluetooth or Wi-Fi can enable direct connectivity to a smart phone or tablet, allowing the sensor manufacturer to utilize its user interface for configuration and reporting. Adding a wireless standard can also potentially increase reach across markets. For example, adding ZigBee or Z-Wave to the product can allow the sensor to be integrated into existing home and building automation networks as a standalone end device.

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4. Scalability: Wireless networks are inherently very scalable. It is possible to start out with a small number of wireless sensors, and gradually expand the network as the business case permits. Certain network topologies will become more reliable as the network size – and therefore redundancy – is increased. For example, a mesh network with only one router will act like a star network, with all sensors directly connected to it, but as more routers are added, multiple paths from sensor to sensor will automatically be created, eliminating any single point of failure.

5. Mobility: Freedom from wires can allow sensors to be easily moved throughout an installation as business needs dictate, allowing for novel flexibility and therefore new application scenarios.

6. Security: Many wired protocols assume that hackers won't be able to gain physical access to an installation, so safeguards aren't as widespread within a wired network if a breach occurs. Since it is common to assume that the physical layer of a wireless network is accessible, there are typically multiple layers of security in place within a wireless protocol which protect the network as a whole. There is a fundamental tradeoff between ease of use and security, but typical defenses within a wireless network include multistep commissioning procedures, network- and application-level encryption, and spread spectrum mechanisms.

Utilizing Wireless Networking in Your Sensor Application will be presented on Wednesday, June 22, 2016 during the Sensors Expo & Conference.

About the Author

Cristin Dziekonski is a Principal Systems Architect for CEL's Embedded Systems Group. She received a BSEE from Northwestern University and an MSEE from the University of Southern California. Cristin specializes in wireless systems, both on the hardware and software sides, and is currently responsible for embedded product architecture design and validation. Additionally, she has worked in both engineering management and technical roles at CEL, and has previous experience working at Motorola within the automotive and mobile phone divisions.

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