Interview with Ivona Spurna from IQRF Technology

  • Ivona Spurna - Marketing Manager at IQRF Technology and IQRF Alliance

everything RF recently interviewed Ivona Spurna, who is the marketing manager at IQRF Tech and IQRF Alliance for the last 7 years. In the IQRF Alliance, she is the secretary and in charge of the IQRF Smart School academic program aimed at supporting the education of the youth in the field of IQRF technology.

Q. What is IQRF? Can you tell us more about how this technology came into existence and what made you develop this technology?

Ivona Spurna: IQRF Technology was created in 2004 as a response to the needs of industrial partners when there was a lack of reliable mesh technology with huge coverage. Since 2004 it has been continuously improved. It is a wireless Mesh technology in sub-GHz ISM radio bands enabling more than 200 hops in one network. An extensive ecosystem has emerged around the technology, and its uniqueness is apparent not only by dozens of granted patents but by almost a million various IQRF devices around the world.

Q. How is IQRF different from other Wireless Mesh Technologies?

Ivona SpurnaIQRF differs from other technologies thanks to its unique features such as industrial reliability, determined by the robustness of the communication protocols used, IQRF True Low Power® since battery-powered devices can operate for decades without changing the battery. Other features are interoperability which has been defined by freely accessible documents on the IQRF Alliance website for several years and ultimate security.

IQMESH® is a unique communication protocol for IQRF wireless mesh networks based on directional flooding using TDMA. This ensures collision-free routing, which is also completely deterministic in time and independent of topological changes. Routing based on the IQMESH protocol can also easily deal with local connection failures, whether they are due to interference or obstruction. In source-routing algorithms, the control device defines the transmission (routing) path. In case of temporary outages, it is necessary to find alternative paths. Thanks to our optimized directional flooding, the message is delivered automatically during the same routing frame. Of course, if there is any connection between the sender and the recipient.
Networks based on the IQMESH protocol are organized and controlled. The coordinator serves as the control device for other network devices. These can work in router mode (repeater, router) or as a periodically transmitting sensor that sleeps most of the time.
The FRC – Fast Response Command® protocol is used for network management and data aggregation from devices. Put simply – in the first phase, a given message (command) is spread throughout the network, in the next phase, each device broadcasts its data, which the routers remember, and in the third phase, all data is gradually sent back from the most distant one to the coordinator. The time of the entire process of mass data collection is deterministic and is an order of magnitude lower than when collecting data from individual devices.

IQRF True Low Power®
IQRF devices can work in different modes. Thanks to the low average consumption, battery-powered devices can operate for decades without changing the battery. The limit, for example, for sensors in beaming mode is the lifetime of the battery itself, not the consumption of the device. An example is a temperature sensor sending data regularly every 4 minutes. The capacity of the AA LiSClO2 battery will allow data to be sent for 40+ years, but the manufacturer's guarantee of battery life is only a quarter.

Application interoperability has been defined by freely accessible documents on the IQRF Alliance website for several years, and the IQRF Alliance provides certification of products meeting this application interoperability. The devices are then communicated with in a uniform manner, which simplifies the integration of products from different manufacturers.
Thanks to standardization, it will be possible to maintain interoperability on the communication layer even with devices from different manufacturers without the need to use uniform hardware or transceiver modules. The publication of the standard will thus allow any manufacturer to integrate low-energy, reliable and field-proven IQRF wireless technology into their IoT devices without any license fees.

Q. What are some applications where IQRF can be used? Can you give us some use cases/examples where IQRF has been over other mesh technologies?

Ivona SpurnaThe technology fits best to lighting control systems, sensors and other IoT solutions where reliability is a must. Since more than 200 repeater devices can be in one network, all the lights in a building or on the street can be controlled from the local gateway at once, and if this number is not enough, a non-conflicting additional network can be operated on another channel. Thanks to robust routing, the signal reaches the most remote locations. Since the entire network can be controlled from a local gateway, the system is not susceptible to Internet connection failures. Through this connection, the network can be monitored and controlled remotely, but everything can also work locally autonomously.

When it comes to our case studies we have thousands of applications behind us. I would like to mention smart heating solutions in 4-star-hotel Patria (Slovakia) or many schools across Czechia and Slovakia, or our street lighting solutions for big Czech cities like Brno or Tábor. IQRF technology has also played its part in solutions for power plants (controlling turbine blades or defrosting coal wagons).

Q. What frequency band does IQRF use? What are the advantages of operating in this frequency band?

Ivona SpurnaIt works in license-free ISM bands 868/916/433 MHz. The benefit is a good passage through obstructions and greater range compared to higher frequencies.

Q. Can you tell us more about the architecture of an IQRF mesh? What is its range, data rate and other key specs?

Ivona SpurnaThere is one operating device in the network, which is called the network coordinator. It acts as a network controller, it is part of the communication gateway connecting the IQRF network to other kinds of networks. Other elements are the so-called nodes, which can be, for example, lights, sensors, thermostatic heads and other electronic devices.

The coordinator usually initiates network communication, sending a command to the network in a data message. This is propagated through the network using routing, which is called synchronized directional flooding. The propagation time is predictable and is the same even if transmission conditions change.

IQRF transceivers with a printed antenna on board are certified for a 500 m range in free space. In buildings, the range is of course smaller, it is reduced by the number of obstructions and interference, on the order of several tens of meters.

The transfer rate is currently 19.8 kbps.

Transmission on the IQRF network is encrypted with industry-standard AES-128, as is adding devices to the network or the network services. In addition, the actual transmitted content can be encrypted with a user key using the built-in functions of the operating system, ensuring that the message is not decrypted until the end device.

Due to the fact that IQRF transceivers can work in different consumption modes, it is possible to ensure that the device will work on a regular battery for several decades. In this case, the life of the battery itself becomes the limit, not the consumption during data transfer.

Q. Can you tell us more about the IQRF product/Hardware portfolio?

Ivona SpurnaThe basis is communication technology based on IQRF transceivers. There are several different types, they differ in the way they are connected to the device and the antenna options.

Infrastructure elements include aggregating repeaters and IoT gateways.

Manufacturers bring a variety of end devices to the market, such as sensors for temperature, humidity, CO2, CO, nitrogen oxides, radon, lighting, noise, UV components, ultrasonic water level sensors and others. There are different kinds of switches to control the device. Furthermore, manufacturers offer thermostatic heads or faucets that can be monitored and controlled remotely. For lights, some of our partners manufacture bridges compatible with the DALI standard or with Zhaga or NEMA connectors. Together with the devices, manufacturers often supply control software and offer comprehensive solutions. Manufacturers that belong to the IQRF Alliance can have their devices certified for IQRF interoperability, which ensures uniform communication with devices, simplifying work with devices from different manufacturers.

Q. Can you tell us about the IQRF Alliance? 

Ivona SpurnaWe are an international IoT alliance that delivers wireless IoT devices and solutions based on IQRF Technology. Our alliance includes manufacturers, cloud providers, telco operators, system integrators, research centers, universities and so much more. Together we create smart solutions, for example, in the areas of sanitation, indoor and outdoor lighting, heating or monitoring (as mentioned before).

Q. Can other manufacturers build products for the IQRF mesh topology?

Ivona SpurnaAbsolutely. They can either use existing IQRF transceivers supplied by IQRF Tech or integrate IQRF technology into their products. One can currently take advantage of the fact that IQRF technology is now opening as a new standard for mesh networks, so in a few months, they can sign a license with the IQRF Standards Association and gain access to the software libraries and patent pool maintained by the association.

Q. Can you tell us more about your user/base? What segments do they belong to? Which segment is the largest for you?

Ivona SpurnaOur user base consists mainly of manufacturers and integrators of lights (street lighting, emergency lighting, indoor lighting) because for this area the technology is clearly the best choice thanks to the unique properties described above (robustness, reliability of mesh topology, etc.). Furthermore, IQRF technology is successfully used for sensor communication. However, the use of IQRF is much broader as described above.

Q. How can new customers start using the IQRF Mesh technology?

Ivona SpurnaWe recommend going through the basic documents on the IQRF website and tutorials on the youtube channel. Try creating a prototype of your product using the basic development kit, use the professional training of IQRF Tech, which can be done in person or online, or use our company's R&D services if the customer needs to speed up the development.

Q. Do you provide turn-key solutions to customers? Or can customers build their own solutions based on this technology?

Ivona SpurnaBoth options are possible and have been implemented in the past.

Q. Do you have a geographic focus at the moment or has this technology been deployed globally? Can you tell us more about how you support global deployments?

Ivona SpurnaIQRF Technology originated in Czechia, from where it is spreading mainly through Europe to the whole world. You can find existing solutions today in Israel, Mexico or South America, for example. Support for remote locations is usually online, with occasional technical training either at our company or, in the case of larger projects, at the customer's location.

Q. What is your technology roadmap for the next 3 years?

Ivona SpurnaFirst of all, we are working on the complete opening of the IQRF standard by June 4, 2023. We are also preparing a lot of free software libraries and stacks and open hardware for transceiver modules.

Furthermore, it is planned to develop another 4 new types of IQRF transceiver modules. We want to expand the current certifications of conformity with FCC and ETSI standards to certifications for Japan and Israel.

Click here to learn more about IQRF Technology.