Friday, July 04, 2014

Spectrum And Power Are The Long Tent Poles For Wearable Tech

The wearable tech sector is the hot thing attracting venture investment now that mobile computing has pushed the social media revolution to its apogee.  The FashTechSF event I blogged about is just the beginning.  Expect an onslaught of wearable startups clambering into overpriced San Francisco co-working spaces.  The ones that successfully deploy products must design for the two "long poles in the tent:"  spectrum management and power management.

Wearables must be confined to some predetermined part of the telecom spectrum.  Anyone who has ever worked in telecommunications knows that bandwidth is large but finite.  The FCC periodically auctions off parts of the electromagnetic spectrum that the government does not need to use.  Technologies that compress transmissions similarly make economical use of the airwaves.  The plethora of wearable gadgets that are about to hit Silicon Valley technology showcases need to design for spectrum allocations that are going to get very crowded.  Devices that do not adhere to wireless industry standards will face compatibility problems that frustrate consumers.  Your digitally enhanced shirts and socks won't perform if they can't communicate with your smartphone.  They'll be even less useful if other people's smart clothing jams your smartphone's signal on the street.  The IEEE Communications Society publishes its Transactions on Wireless Communications covering this very important topic.

Startups pushing wearables must optimize their devices power management in an era when Li-Ion batteries are built into small systems.  These batteries need to be rechargeable because the early adopters who will buy wearables first won't settle for the inconvenience of changing batteries.  The Wireless Power Consortium is driving the adoption of the Qi standard for recharging.  Wearable tech engineers need to know about Qi.  Note that IEEE is developing a standard for wireless charging with an initial focus on inductive coupling.

The Open Wearable Computing Group tracks emerging standards in this sector.  It is too early to tell which standards in spectrum and power will win broad adoption.  The wearable products that sell strongly and are compatible with leading smartphone OSs (iOS and Droid) will have the luxury of setting the early standard.  That's how VHS won the early VCR wars over Betamax.  Apple and Google need to hold wearable hackathons so they can attract solutions fitting their mobile platforms' existing spectrum and power configurations.  Winning in wearable innovation will be about more than pushing over-the-air software updates from the cloud to smartphones.  The winning products will be designed to fit hardware standards that won't pose transmission conflicts or power budget shortfalls.