Spark (Montreal, Canada) was founded in 2016 to develop a specialized low-power, short range wireless transceiver aimed at the Internet of Things believing that while Bluetooth could be low power it could not provide sufficient data rates for IoT and that Wi-Fi while offering the appropriate data rate was not sufficiently energy-efficient.
For short-range applications up to about 100 metres, Spark believes a well-designed UWB system was the answer and could achieve energy efficiencies of 1nJ/bit, a factor of 30 below Bluetooth Low Energy. The Spark system is also has extremely low latency opening up duplex applications and has great inherent immunity to electromagnetic interference.
The SR10X0 family of transceivers is so energy efficient that it opens up the prospect of battery-less wireless sensors for use in IoT.
“Bluetooth is not suitable for the next wireless explosion,” said Fares Mubarak, CEO of Spark, in a phone interview with eeNews.
Frederic Nabki, a professor of Electrical Engineering at the École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS) who cofounded the company and serves as CTO, said Spark made the decision to use the unlicensed 3.1 GHz to 10.6 GHz band and tackled the challenge of low power by allowing both transmitter and receiver switch off between the nanosecond bursts of signal. To do that the transceivers would need to be synchronized and Spark has found a way to do that but still only using a simple, low-cost 32 kHz crystal oscillator as an external component.
That most likely uses some sort of on-chip clock multiplier, probably with self-calibration and auto-tuning and some sort of handshake between transceivers. Nabki was reluctant to reveal too much. “We massage the clock in chip to make it good enough,” he said. He confirmed that this is a solid-state solution.
The technology supports data rates of up to 20 Mbps and is suitable for application with gaming peripherals and AR/VR headsets, smart home devices, and battery-less internet of things sensors.
Next: Two chips
Spark has produced two chips – the SR1010 and the SR1020 – to cover the spectrum from 3 to 6 GHz and from 6 GHz to 10 GHz. This is partly because different regulations cover the outdoor deployment of this spectrum in Europe and elsewhere in the world, Nabki said.
Worldwide UWB regulation. Source: Spark Microsystems International
Compared to Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which typically has an airtime of a few milliseconds causing noticeable latency of tens of milliseconds, the SR1000 UWB transceiver can send 1 kb of data in only 50 microseconds, yielding significantly shorter wireless latency in a wide range of applications, such as audio streaming. The Spark transceiver’s power consumption, typically 1nJ/bit, is typically 40x lower than BLE when operating at 1Mbps. With a data transfer rate up to 10x higher than BLE, the SR1000 series’ 10 Mbps capability suits content-rich applications, such as video streaming, where high bandwidth low latency links are essential.
The SR1000 series comprises two pin-identical product variants to accommodate the different regional spectrum allocations; the SR1010 for 3.1 GHz to 6 GHz, and the SR1020 for 6 GHz to 9.5 GHz. Spark Microsystems’ wide-spectrum UWB transceivers aid product development teams to differentiate their products by enhancing the user experience, requiring less battery changes. The SR1000 series can also be used for a variety of ranging and positioning applications in addition to provisioning a low emissions, low power, low latency symmetrical data link.
Sanjay Jha, previously the CEO of Globalfoundries and COO of Qualcomm and a recent addition to the Spark board of directors said: “Spark has developed and delivered the first truly differentiated solution which allows for predictable and ultra-low latency communication for both the consumer, home and industrial applications. Additionally, it delivers accurate ranging, interference resistance and enables a trade-off between range and throughput rates.”
CEO Mubarak said: “We are in a sub-90nm process with foundry TSMC and not using the LP [low power] form of the process.”
The SR1000 series is currently sampling and with production quantities available from 3Q20 onwards.