Why WBAN technology will become important standard on the market

WBAN standard in the form that is developed by IEEE has no direct competition. Of course on the market there are several different wireless standards for short distances (Bluetooth, ZigBee to name the most important ones), but none of them target WBAN application with such accuracy as current specification of WBAN (2010). ZigBee, as it’s built based on old specification of 802.15.4 has some aspirations for this part of the market, but 2010 is more suitable for modern market needs. The biggest difference is that newer standard ads  a possibility to use UWB radio.

Bluetooth technology has the biggest coverage on the market. According to “Worldwide Bluetooth Semiconductor 2008-2012 Forecast” in 2012 market of Bluetooth IC’s will reach a level of 3.3B$. It is a massive competition, but we have to take into consideration that there is a big difference between BT and WBAN which partially is based on Ultra Wideband radio. Bluetooth doesn’t focus that much on the topic of low power consumption, what is most important in WBAN applications. Bluetooth transmitter has a transmit power of 1mW, where WBAN solution can use much lower powers ~100uW for UWB.

Also with Human Body Communications radio WBAN can offer much simpler radio design, what further brings the power consumption and costs down. This technology is specifically targeting Personal Network applications and thus is much suited for the task.

As the standard is still in quite initial stage of the process, and draft is not yet finished, it is hard to say what technology solutions will be used in finial version. We can only assume at the moment that the network topology will allow multihop communication, which in case of WBAN is very important idea, allowing to limit transmission power of each node to the minimal possible value that still keeps connection to nearest nodes, but doesn’t require communication between each nodes.

We have to look at WBAN network more as a missing element, which didn’t have its direct predecessor on the market, then as an additional standard of wireless communication. Even though it is planned to use UWB technology as a transmission technology, it doesn’t directly compete with Bluetooth and Zigbee, which normally compete with UWB. It is due to some additional requirements that WBAN application has. I will show them in this post:

Low power consumption

As in wireless body area networks we don’t require high bandwidth in most cases we can greatly  reduce power consumption of transmitter/receiver. In case of Bluetooth, power consumption is at least 10x about the required one. In case of ZigBee it’s much lower, but still on the high side.

UWB can take advantage of its short burst communication and reduce greatly average power in exchange for unnecessarily high bit rate. Also application of Human Body Communication, as it was mentioned, tries the other approach to simplify the transmitter and receiver to extreme, thus limiting the power lost in transceiver itself.
Low interference with medical equipment

UWB with its spread spectrum (>500MHz) communication is much less expected to create interference for medical, and not only, machinery. This fact is extremely important for WBAN, where the initial idea comes from medical monitoring requirements. Bluetooth as well as ZigBee are narrow band radios, thus have a much greater probability of creating interferences.

Lowest possible effect on living tissue

In case of transceivers that are supposed to be worn for extended periods of time, the health concerns become even more of a problem then with current applications. With spread spectrum communication and ultra low power of transmission, UWB becomes the best solution of WBAN application. In this sense Bluetooth or ZigBee can’t get even close to what UWB represents.

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