The pandemic situation has imposed many restrictions on our professional and social lives. This has highlighted the benefits of being able to monitor products, manufacturing and control processes remotely. However, wireless communication should be carried out in accordance with the highest security standards. This is particularly important in the case of industrial applications. TME offers a wide range of modules by IQRF Tech s.r.o., who provides IQRF wireless communication technology. This article will give you answers to the questions:
- What is the IQRF technology?
- What are the unique features of the IQRF technology?
- What are the benefits of the IQRF technology?
- How does the manufacturer assist customers in the development process?
- How IQRF products can be applied?
What is the IQRF technology?
IQRF® is a wireless communication technology which has been developed since 2004 and operates in the Sub-GHz radio band (433 / 868 / 916MHz). It allows the transmission of small amounts of data at a minimum power consumption. Depending on the selected option, the current consumption is at the level of several mA in the standard operation mode or about 250uA in the low power mode. Due to such low power consumption, the technology is perfectly suited for battery-powered applications and other solutions that require high energy savings.
Fig. 1. Graphical representation of current consumption of the TR 76D module, depending on the selected operating mode.
The modules, depending on the type of application, can work in POINT – POINT, STAR, PEER to PEER and MESH topologies. As many as 240 devices can operate in the MESH structure within a single network, ensuring secure and reliable operation, while maintaining high comfort of network operation.
Key features of the IQRF technology
A wide range of modules is available on the market, allowing wireless communication of devices. However, it is worth noting the benefits of implementing the IQRF technology:
a) Reliability of data transmission
Reliability of transmission results directly from the use of the unique and patented IQMESH protocol. At the stage of network creation, the protocol employs asynchronous communication, the aim of which is to distribute packets informing about the network creation process as soon as possible. After its creation, the protocol works on the basis of synchronous communication. The coordinator supervises the data transmission process across the network. If the network has a MESH structure, each of the modules included in the network has the ability to repeat data packets, in strictly defined time intervals, to all the neighbouring devices. Such a solution prevents packet collisions and at the same time protects the user in case of a temporary communication interruption.
b) Fast Response Command (FRC)
The use of the Fast Response Command protocol, abbreviated as FRC, allows the user to retrieve information from the network much faster. The FRC protocol is pre-configurable, which means that configurations must be carried out at the coordinator level before it is actually applied. In this way the type of feedback is determined. The practical operation of the protocol is incredibly simple. After correct configuration, the network coordinator sends a collective packet, and the network nodes place the desired information within that packet, in a strictly defined place. Thanks to this, in a few, or less than twenty seconds, depending on the size of the network, the user receives information on the status of the parameter to which the query was related. This may be e.g. the lighting fixture status (on/off), temperature, voltage or current values of specific components. The FRC protocol is ideal for monitoring defined critical parameters in a given application. From the user's point of view, it is extremely important that many commands of different types can be prepared and sent according to the needs of the specific application.
The principle of operation of the IQMESH and FRC protocols is presented in videos devoted to products based on the IQRF technology. The videos are available in product cards in the TME catalogue (“Multimedia” tab).
c) Three-level data transmission security
The first level of protection is the user password (access password) assigned during the network creation phase. For the devices to be connected to the network, the 16-character password implemented in the module must be identical to the password in the coordinator. If the passwords are different, the device will not be added to the network. This is a safeguard against unauthorized devices being added to the network. The second level of protection is the networking encryption. Each module is equipped with a unique, random, 192 b password, generated individually at the production stage. The password is securely transferred to the modules acting as a node during the process of connecting to the network, and therefore the user does not have to deal not only with network encryption but also with the management and assignment of network passwords. The third level of protection is the user password called user key. It is an optional, third security measure, which is implemented by assigning an additional 16-character security password. Thanks to this solution, particularly sensitive data are additionally protected.
Fig. 2. Networking encryption during data transmission.
d) Direct Peripheral Access protocol
Built-in Direct Peripheral Access protocol, abbreviated as DPA, allows the developer to reduce the time needed for programming the module, which also reduces the time to market the product. This is possible thanks to the use of available hardware profiles provided by the manufacturer. After the implementation, they execute communication between the IQRF module and the external element using the SPI or UART interface. With such a programming path, the role of the system developer is to prepare mainly the logic of the executive element in the device, responsible for the execution of specific tasks and functions. Of course, the user is still able to program the module in the traditional way and use the entire available application space according to his own preferences. The difference between traditional programming and programming using the DPA protocol is shown in the figure below.
Fig. 3. Methods of programming IQRF modules. On the left side, programming using the DPA protocol is presented, and on the right side- traditional programming of the application layer.
IQRF IDE application
IQRF® technology is much more than a wireless module. IQRF Tech provides a range of solutions for your convenience. The first of these is the IQRF IDE application supplied with the modules. This is free software that allows you to easily create a network, visualize it and manage it in a broad sense. The software also allows you to view and read transmitted data. Due to its advanced functionality, the software is an ideal tool for developers. It is worth noting that after disabling some more advanced functions, it can also become a tool for presenting the general concept of system operation to the client. This is possible thanks to built-in and convenient function buttons. Thanks to the IQRF IDE it is possible to update the operating system of the modules, which allows clients to use the functions available in the latest revisions. The application also has a built-in RF scanner to verify interference levels and features the ability to generate QR codes that contain information about the module used in a given network. This opens up an alternative possibility for the user to add devices to the network by reading a previously generated QR code.
Fig. 4. A visualization of a sample network consisting of 10 nodes and the coordinator in the IQRF IDE application. The IQRF technology allows for connecting modules operating in the reduced energy consumption and standard modes to the network.
IQRF Tech provides sample software codes for developers free of charge. This significantly accelerates the creation of expected final functionality. Additionally, the available SDK (Software development Kit) and IQRF Gateway Daemon for popular single-board computers allow you to create your own access gates, which can be equipped with non-standard ports, as well as to create products and central units with more advanced functionalities. Gateways, cables, antennas, connectors, remote controls, as well as the possibility of implementing a project or a part of it within the service, complement the company's offer. Apart from the free application and fragments of codes for developers, the manufacturer pays great attention to top quality technical support, available 24/7. After registering the project, the manufacturer offers free consultation of the project if requested, an NDA is signed beforehand), with particular emphasis on the subject of wireless communication.
Fig. 5. The figure shows how to mount the antennas. On the left side, there is a pad-hole, to which an external antenna, a U.FL connector and an antenna built in the module can be connected.
Products by IQRF Tech are an excellent base for developing IoT and IIoT applications. They support the full autonomy of the created network and at the same time ensure interoperability with all existing communication standards, such as LoRa, Wi-Fi, GSM, Bluetooth or Ethernet at the network gateway level. The IQRF technology is used in applications for lighting or heat control, industrial and building automation, measurement systems and manufacturing line automation. It is suitable for projects requiring communication between products or machines (M2M) and other projects in the field of Industry 4.0.
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Author: Piotr Antończyk, IQRF Tech s.r.o