In recent years, the growing wave of Internet of Things (IoT) applications has spread to many highly specialized market segments, including industrial automation, intelligent retail, intelligent logistics, and intelligent transportation, which are all blue ocean markets with high expectations. However, the solutions needed for these various segments have something in common: they all require a very stable and secure network architecture with multiple nodes and low power consumption.
To overcome this complex technical challenge, M2COMM, a leading provider of low power consumption IoT communication technologies, has developed its own proprietary protocol, called Platanus. Boasting a battery life of 5-10 years, Platanus provides a reliable network physical layer solution for intelligent retail and logistics systems by taking advantage of outstanding RF sensitivity and linearity technologies and ultra-low power consumption EZRadio PRO series Sub-GHz RF transceivers from Silicon Labs. This protocol is poised to greatly accelerate the commercialization of IoT technologies.
We were given an opportunity recently to interview Dr. Derrick Wei, CEO of M2COMM. We asked for his observations on specialized IoT applications and overall technological developments to help us see IoT business opportunities from another angle.
Please tell us about your experience and unique perspective regarding the IoT market and product design.
IoT is an application concept involving many fields, with high vertical integration and highly compatible software and hardware. People started discussing IoT as early as 2008, but the IoT market is still in its infancy. Compared to IoT applications in consumer electronics, such as wearable devices and B2C business models, I think it is easy to see the commercial value of specialized IoT market segments, including logistics, retail, industrial and B2B applications, and they are very likely to take off rapidly.
The key problem in IoT applications is the stability and reliability of the network physical layer, which is even more important for system integrators and service vendors in certain market segments. M2COMM, ever since its initial involvement in the IoT market, has targeted the intelligent retail and logistics segments, which have highly anticipated business opportunities. It has specialized in overcoming various network communication protocol challenges, and developed a proprietary protocol which is highly reliable, supports massive numbers of nodes, and features low power consumption.
What sets M2COMM’s company culture apart, what makes its strategies unique in IoT markets?
M2COMM was founded in 2012. We specialize in developing unique, multifunctional WLAN and LPWAN wireless communication protocols with low power consumption. Currently, we have offices in Taiwan and France to provide products and technical support for our customers. Our mission is to use our solid technical foundation to create a highway for IoT applications so as to bring togehter our partners into a brand-new IoT era.
Just as IoT is an application concept with high vertical integration and mutually compatible software and hardware, naturally, team work and close cooperation becomes the company culture of M2COMM. Within the company, software and hardware developers must synchronize their steps, and software and hardware engineers must work closely together. Outside the company, we are eager to vertically cooperate with the value chain, from network communication protocols to wireless communication modules, end-user solutions, and cloud services, to co-build the IoT ecosystem.
M2COMM has already implemented its proprietary hive-type low power consumption communication protocol (Platanus) in the Electronic Shelf Label (ESL) system, and has developed Uplynx, a highly integrated wireless communication SoC for the Sigfox standard, which has greatly shortened the design time for manufacturers and achieved unprecedented success in the specialized intelligent retail market segment.
Tell us about the features and advantages of IoT products marketed by M2COMM and their benefits to IoT applications.
M2COMM has focused on mid-distance IoT (IoT LAN) and low power WAN (LPWAN) wireless communication technologies that both work in Sub-GHz frequency bands with or without authentication, ideal for connecting intelligent devices to the Internet. The LPWAN technology allows communication distances of several meters to 10 km, and offers the stability of a telecom network. The power consumption of IoT LAN is less than one-third that of Bluetooth Low Energy protocol, so you could say they are designed specifically for IoT use cases.
Recently, the Uplynx wireless communication chip M2COMM designed for the Sigfox standard passed Sigfox certification in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and Asia, which is not only an important milestone for worldwide application of LPWAN communication chips, but also marks the beginning of the global adoption of a single IoT design.
Uplynx is a highly integrated wireless communication chip that is specifically designed for Sigfox and its ecosystem partners and vendors, fulfilling their requirements of low cost, low power consumption, and small size. Such requirements were consequently reflected in the reference designs for certification, in which Uplynx uses a quartz oscillator instead of TCXO to allow its output power to reach 22 dBM without any extra power amplifiers. What is more, the built-in powerful 32-bit micro-control unit (MCU), 128 KB flash and 24 KB RAM in this chip, with a size of only 7×7 mm, provide ample computation capacity and application flexibility for developers. In addition, system manufacturers can produce products for different regions by designing only one PCB board when using the certified Uplynx chip, which will greatly shorten the design time and reduce problems in product management.
Building on the above efforts and product lines, M2COMM has also developed ELSA, a wireless electronic shelf labeling system with the smallest size and lowest power consumption in the world, utilizing the EZRadio PRO series Sub-GHz RF transceivers from Silicon Labs. Not only can this product provide a battery life of over 50 years, but it also fulfills the requirements of networks with large numbers of nodes. We believe that it will be very popular in the retail and logistics segments for its small size makes it easy to install and maintain.
Using its hive-type communication protocol Platanus, M2COMM built the ELSA wireless electronic labeling system in 2014. It shows excellent performance in data transmission and ultra-low power consumption. The brand-new ELSA also performs better in terms of software and hardware compatibility, system stability, and multi-node management, thereby allowing corner retail shops to enjoy the convenience and efficiency of the Retail 4.0 era.
Among the new ELSA series of products, the ELSA integrated access point (iAP) is the world's smallest electronic labeling AP, with dimensions of 100 x 68 x 25 mm. The combination of a retail store’s intranet and an ELSA router (iRT) is all that is needed to manage all data transmissions effectively within 30,000 square meters, an area equal to six soccer fields, without needing to go through the store’s computer or other servers. The compact iAP provides an SD card slot on the side for backing up of the store's data, and a flexible magnet on the back for fast and easy installation.
Both iAP and iRT can operate in WiFi-only environments, and include backup batteries to maintain stable data transmission during power outages. However, the function of intelligent electronic labeling should not be limited to showing prices on demand or updating labels. ELSA also provides cloud applications to let business owners easily manage and monitor all their installed electronic labels, making retail business operation more immediate and efficient.
What Silicon Labs solutions are you using now? What specific functional advantages have they provided for your products?
We have adopted the EZRadioPRO series Si4460 and Si4464 RF transceivers from Silicon Labs. They operate in Sub-GHz bands of 119–1,050 MHz, performing excellently across many RF performance indicators, such as linearity and sensitivity.
Please share your views on the future of IoT and the future focus of M2COMM
We think the focus of IoT will be on business and industrial applications in the near future, such as intelligent logistics and intelligent retail and industrial automation. More and more B2B business models will surface in the IoT market. Today, the development of logistics in Mainland China is sophisticated. The next stage will be intelligent logistics applications for intelligent management and wireless ESL tracking, which will create another huge wave of business opportunities.
In terms of intelligent retail, ESL will play a key role in the Retail 4.0 revolution. ESL will not only allow store owners to update product prices instantly upon stock quantities and bidding status, but also significantly reduce human errors in updating prices. Store employees, therefore, can serve the customer more attentively to increase customer satisfaction.
For the convenience of more retail store owners, M2COMM’s ESL system can be integrated with all POS systems in the market. In addition, M2COMM's ESL system promises an over 5 years service life with just an ordinary button battery, and is a very sustainable and environment friendly solution. We are dedicated to providing the most excellent IoT solutions to our customers, enabling our clients and consumers to enjoy better retail environments and services.
In the next phase, we plan to expand the application of our proprietary wireless communication protocols, IoT SoC and modules, and wireless Electronic Shelf Label system into the new filed, the factory automation market.
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