t present, smart wearable device manufacturers are integrating long-distance cellular Internet of things (NB-IoT/LTE-M) technology into wearable devices represented by smartwatches to meet their “independence” needs in telemedicine, outdoor sports and other scenarios.
Intelligent wearable devices are the aggregators of the development of mobile communication technology and computer technology. For example, the most representative smartwatch in smart wearable devices can only be used to see time in the past, but now it can be used to display information, check the weather, make phone calls and so on through the network and computing chips. At present, smart wearable device manufacturers are integrating long-distance cellular Internet of things (NB-IoT/LTE-M) technology into wearable devices represented by smartwatches to meet their “independence” needs in telemedicine, outdoor sports and other scenarios.
In this context, Nordic, an European chip company, aims at smart wearable device manufacturers. In addition to its original short-distance Bluetooth Internet of things connection solution based on nRF52840 and nRF5340, it also creates a long-distance cellular Internet of things (cIoT) Internet of things solution based on nRF9160 cellular module. This not only enables Nordic to have a complete short-distance Bluetooth LE + long-distance cIoT Internet of things enabling capability for wearable device manufacturers, but also solves the challenges faced by smart wearable devices in connection, control and so on.
Smart wearable devices require ubiquitous connectivity
Nowadays, the “independence” of smart wearable devices is becoming more and more prominent. Taking the smartwatch, which accounts for the largest proportion in the subcategory of smart wearable devices, for example, smartwatch is no longer just a smartphone accessory, but also exists as a device that can be used independently.
At Apple’s WWDC conference on June 4, 2019, Apple brought a new Watch OS 6 system for Apple Watch, which supports independent APP Store, which enhances the functional richness of smartwatch on the one hand, and confirms that Apple no longer regards smartwatch as an auxiliary device for mobile phones. In particular, the introduction of the honeycomb smartwatch, through the same long-distance communication connection as the mobile phone, gives users the opportunity to get rid of the mobile phone and other main devices and enjoy the convenience of the smartwatch.
Outdoor sports is one of the rigid demand scenes of many smartwatch users, and in many outdoor scenes, such as long-distance running, marathon and so on, athletes need to record the changes of exercise data and physical signs in the process of exercise. in order to analyze their exercise status and improve it. However, the average smartphone is usually larger and heavier, so it is very difficult to carry it in sports. On the contrary, with the advantages of small size, light weight, easy to wear and complete functions, smartwatch can easily become the best alternative to smartphones.
However, the wireless communication technology in traditional smartwatch is usually Bluetooth. Bluetooth wireless connection has the characteristics of high speed and low power consumption, but it also has obvious limitations-Bluetooth connecting devices have strict distance restrictions. For example, at the present stage, smartwatches are mostly used as auxiliary devices of smartphones through Bluetooth connections. Once they are separated from the main device, they cannot be used independently, and their functionality, practicality and even security will be greatly reduced.
Compared with Bluetooth technology, cellular Internet of things technology can support the direct connection between smart wearable devices and cellular base stations, without the need for smart phones or other smart devices to act as gateways. This greatly solves the problem of short connection distance of Bluetooth wireless communication.
In addition, the long-distance cellular Internet of things technology not only has a long communication distance, but also has the advantage of low power consumption. Compared with the 2G\ 4G cellular communication technology supported by the smartwatch for the average consumer, the Cellular Internet of things (NB-IoT/LTE-M) technology does not quickly deplete the batteries in the already small smartwatch, so it can monitor the elderly or patients “around the clock” or even for months in the field of telemedicine.
With the help of the low-power cellular Internet of things connection scheme provided by Nordic based on nRF9160, please climb to another high-rise building. NRF9160 is a system-level packaged cellular IoT module product that integrates NB-IoT and LTE-M wireless communication technology. Through Nordic’s global certification on low-power cellular IoT technology, it can also help manufacturers quickly promote their products around the world.
In addition, in terms of size and low power consumption, Nordic nRF9160 greatly solves the problem of design difficulties caused by the small size of smart wearable devices dominated by smartwatches. NRF9160 uses SiP packaging technology, and the overall size is only the size of 10x16x1mm, which is 1/3 of the mainstream modules in the market, and can be called the smallest form factor in the cellular Internet of things module industry so far. Moreover, nRF9160 has a lower power consumption performance than the mainstream modules in the market, and has won the favor of a large number of customers in just over a year.
The increasingly powerful capabilities of smart wearable devices
On the other hand, the trend of the independence of smart wearable devices is reflected in the functionality. At present, the functionality of smart wearable devices is becoming more and more perfect. In the case of smart bracelets and smartwatches, as well as smart wearable devices on the wrist, smartwatches and smartphones have come out of a distinct but obvious convergence path.
As a smart wearable device on the wrist that became popular before smartwatch, smart bracelet took the lead in capturing the “hearts” of a large number of consumers by virtue of its low price. Since 2019, however, shipments of smart bracelets have been gradually overtaken by smartwatches. In the first half of this year, according to the sales of JD.com platform, its smartwatch sales exceeded 3.9 million pieces and sales exceeded 4.2 billion yuan, an increase of about 21% and 26% compared with last year’s overall sales. In contrast, smart bracelets are dwarfed. In the first half of the year, sales of smart bracelets exceeded 2.2 million pieces, with sales exceeding 500 million yuan. Compared with the overall market last year, there was no significant increase, and the sales volume only increased by about 5% in the first half of last year.
The reason why smartwatch can quickly replace smart bracelet to become the darling of the market, there is no lack of smartwatch has richer functions than smart bracelet, but now, the development of both in terms of appearance and function, there has been convergence.
At the same time, the functions of smartwatches are constantly self-enriching. For example, for outdoor scenes, it is a common phenomenon to support personal music, map search, location and so on. In addition, on professional tracks, some brands have begun to pay attention to professional data, such as blood oxygen, ECG, heart rate, sleep tests, body temperature tests and phone calls. At the same time, in recent years, intelligent wearable devices that support Al speech recognition are also becoming popular. Through more advanced voice control functions, smart wearable devices can play a greater role in getting rid of the limitations of the screen, so it will also have a broader and more diverse market.
However, traditional wireless communication solutions usually only provide the ability to connect devices, such as Nordic nRF52840 Bluetooth connection solution. It is the smallest Bluetooth SoC in CSP package, only 3.544 x 3.607 mm. Such a small size fully meets the needs of small size and design excellence of smart wearable devices. At the same time, the price of the chip is also very attractive. However, if customers need to develop for specific applications, they need to further integrate MCU, GPS and other devices through plug-ins.
For example, in the outdoor mountain marathon scene, there is usually a situation far away from the Bluetooth base station or cellular base station, so in this case, we need not only the positioning support of the cellular base station, but also the GPS auxiliary positioning system to track the location of the wearer to avoid problems such as missing persons caused by a single lead function.
In view of this, Nordic launched a more powerful nRF5340 after nRF52840, which is a low-power Bluetooth flagship product of Nordic, and it is also the first wireless Bluetooth SoC with two Arm ®Cortex ®- M33 processors in the world, which can not only meet the basic connection needs, but also do master control and support QSPI display, smart sensor and so on. Most importantly, nRF5340 supports positioning capabilities based on Bluetooth Angle of arrival (AoA) and Bluetooth Angle of departure (AoD).