Navigating Wireless Connectivity Industry Standards
Standards are created to govern a specific discipline. To create a set of rules an industry can follow, to create products that are considered safe, provide predictable functionality and, for the most part, are interoperable with other devices. In Wireless systems, there are two major categories of standards. Those that govern the lower level, or the Radio, and the standards that govern the Link Layer and functionality.
The lower level standards are created, maintained and managed by the IEEE. The standards that govern the Link Layer and functionality are managed by a group of companies, that otherwise compete, but for the sake of safety, proper functionality and interoperability, decide to work together to create Wireless standards for the industry. Among the leading standards groups are the Bluetooth® SIG, the NFC Forum and the ZigBee® Alliance. Each group is comprised of industry members, as well as a governing body. They collect fees and those fees are used to promote, protect and further develop the industry standards.
Developing New Wireless Standards
Wireless industry standard groups diligently work to develop newer, better, safer, more feature rich standards. The motivation for a new standard could be anything from a breach in security, a bug fix, or adaptation to new requirements from users.
The process of creating a new standard can be simplified into a few phases:
- Conception - In this phase, the members of the group raise the need to either fix, develop a new or amend an existing portion of a standard. They formulate their ideas in a concept document that is discussed and voted on within the organization.
- Development And Testing - In this phase, the members of the group start the diligent and detailed discussion of the concept. It is further discussed and developed and it is tested. Bluetooth SIG runs UPF (Un Plug Fests) in which members get to bring their interpretation and they test against each other’s concepts. This will guarantee interoperability as well as allow the members to ponder about a specific and intricate functionality.
- Ratification - Once the standard is thoroughly tested and meets all the desired criteria, it is ready to be ratified. This is the phase where all members vote for the final version of the standard. It is important to understand that new features are mostly presented as Optional and some as Mandatory. Only voting members get to vote, though others have at least the freedom and are encouraged to provide feedback. Also, some features from former revisions, those who were Optional, can be eliminated or upgraded to Mandatory.
- Adaptation - In this almost last phase, the standard is released as a ratified version and users of all levels can read it and sometimes try it. It is interesting to note that history teaches that some standards fail this phase. Sometimes, what looks like a great idea in the labs and among members of the group, fails to be adopted by the specific end user of that technology.
- Maintenance - This is the last phase where bugs are fixed, features are honed to perfection, and the standard is kept alive until a newer one is developed. A newer sub-revision can be developed, tested, ratified and released.
From the above outline of the process, one can conclude that the process of creating any new or modified standard is lengthy, costly and risky. Companies and organizations that participate in the various standard groups invest millions of dollars in equipment, man hours and otherwise time and money to create new and revised standards. A new standard bears the risk of being adopted by the user and live up to its’ promise. Therefore, most new standards, the ones that are considered as a major leap in the progress and evolution of wireless technology, provide both mandatory and optional features. When reading a new standard freshly minted by its’ group, notice that those new, yet to be adopted features are mostly coined as Optional.
Navigating the standards of the Bluetooth SIG, one of the leading Wireless standard groups for the IoT, follows the above-mentioned phases. These phases and practices are widely deployed by the Bluetooth SIG. In December, 2016 the Bluetooth SIG released a new standard named Bluetooth 5.0 (reads Bluetooth five). Panasonic feels the SIG has released a well-balanced and well thought out standard that is tailored to the IoT as well as keeping the continuity of leading Wireless technology overall.
When considering Bluetooth 5.0 over its’ predecessor Bluetooth 4.2 please remember a few key points:
- Some of the new features are still Optional and just by the nature of being an advanced technology, will take its due course and time to be fully adapted by the various vendors of Bluetooth components as well as devices and test equipment.
- Some of the features that are now Mandatory in Bluetooth 5.0 are already existing in earlier revisions. And they might have been deemed Optional in the 4.2.
Panasonic is a proud member of many standard groups and invest millions of dollars every year in the development and adaptation of new standards. As a 100 years old company, Panasonic believes that new standards are the key for better and safer devices. New products using standard-driven devices provide a better life and a better world.