IBM, Semtech Team Up to Boost Internet of Things

IBM and Semtech announced a partnership advancing the wireless technology behind the Internet of things.

IBM and Semtech, a supplier of analog and mixed-signal semiconductors, have announced a significant advancement in wireless technology that could benefit the Internet of things.

The companies are combining IBM software and Semtech hardware to create a system capable of transmitting data up to a distance of 15 kilometers, or 9 miles, depending on the environment, with significantly improved ease of use.

The joint solution, comprising IBM's Mote Runner software and Semtech's SX127x with LoRa, will be demonstrated at European Utility Week in Amsterdam Oct. 15-17.

Over the next 15 years, the number of machines and sensors connected to the Internet will explode, creating what is called the Internet of things. According to IMS Research, there will be more than 22 billion Web-connected devices by 2020. These new devices will generate more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of new data every day, while every hour enough information is transported on the Internet to fill 7 million DVDs, IBM said.

To make wireless sensor networks (WSNs) easier to program and use, IBM has developed a software development kit—called Mote Runner—that provides an open and programmer-friendly platform to connect sensor and actuator motes. This platform is now available on the Semtech SX1272 RFIC to create a system capable of covering a range of 15 km (9 miles) in a semi-rural environment and up to 5 km (3 miles) in dense urban environments. For comparison, the maximum distance today of a smart-meter transceiver in Europe, utilizing FSK modulation, is between 1 and 2 km (1.2 miles).

"The biggest request we hear from our clients is longer battery life, low cost, ease of use and longer distances," said Hardy Schmidbauer, wireless products director at Semtech. "With IBM, we now have an answer to all of these questions. The new IBM Mote Runner-Semtech system is available starting today."

The new sensors will use a star network architecture with each gateway capable of handling millions of transactions per day, making it an ideal system to easily deploy any number of applications—from smart metering to remotely monitoring train tracks.

"To realize our vision of a Smarter Planet, we must improve the usability of instrumented sensors and devices to securely and efficiently manage large volumes of data," said Thorsten Kramp, a researcher at IBM Research in Zurich, in a statement. "Together with hardware utilizing Semtech's new long-range technology, IBM Mote Runner now also serves markets that inherently require adaptive long-range communication."

The IBM and Semtech sensor platform employs Semtech's new LoRa (long-range) modulation technology to enable drastic range improvements over alternative modulation methods. The additional range provided by LoRa, of up to 15 km, will eliminate the need for repeaters in these applications, significantly simplifying the system design and lowering the total cost of deployment, IBM said.

The Semtech SX127x IC for the end nodes and the SX130x for the gateway are extremely low power, making the system ideal for battery-operated devices. The adaptive link rate capabilities maximize battery lifetime, improve capacity of the network and improve scalability. The LoRa modulation also provides significant improvement interference robustness compared with traditional modulation techniques, IBM said.

IBM Mote Runner is an easy-to-use, infrastructure platform for WSNs. The software is based on a highly optimized virtual machine tailored from scratch for resource-constrained hardware environments with tight power and resource budgets. Moreover, the platform even allows applications to be loaded and updated over the air even after deployment, similar to the way mobile apps are updated on smartphones.

The development environment of IBM Mote Runner comprises a complete tool chain to develop applications in high-level object-oriented languages such as Java and C#, providing support for source-level debugging and network simulations to ease application development and testing. In addition, a Web-based deployment and monitoring framework, in concert with edge and back-end servers, finally makes IBM Mote Runner an end-to-end-solution for the development, deployment, integration and visualization of wireless embedded applications, IBM said.

IBM Mote Runner has been widely used in a broad range of Internet of things applications, from the monitoring of snow accumulation in the Sierra Mountains to the measuring of air quality in cities, Big Blue officials said.

The SX1272 is available immediately for sampling and in production quantities. Semtech offers design assistance, including field- and factory-based support. Data sheets, volume pricing and delivery quotes, as well as evaluation kits and samples, are available here.