How the Wireless Research Center Advances IoT Technology

by | Apr 28, 2020

The Wireless Research Center (WRC) is a nonprofit research center advancing global innovation through wireless technology engineering and testing. From in-body sensors and implanted medical devices to satellites and space exploration, we are a catalyst for global collaboration among companies, industry groups, academic institutions, and other research organizations.

We help clients from around the world develop products and services that advance wireless technology innovation, accelerating the development of ideas from initial concepts through commercial production. Primarily, we are focused on applied research and engineering to bring ideas and innovation to market.

With an expertise in wireless connectivity, we became a leading IoT research center before the term IoT became popular, and we continue to provide leadership in connecting wireless sensors, devices and data.

How the WRC became a leader in IoT technology

Before the WRC was founded, North Carolina’s Research Triangle area was a globally recognized telecom center. Industry leaders in Stockholm, Tokyo, or London knew that Research Triangle Park was home to Sony Ericsson, Nortel, and Alcatel Lucent as well as IBM and Cisco.

Then, between 2008 and 2009, many of the companies started leaving. The area is a great place to raise a family, so many of the engineers and staff remained. They reinvigorated the area with a host of start-ups, but they lacked a place to do antenna testing and development. This left a vacuum that blossomed into opportunity for the founding of the WRC.

We created a unique, nonprofit model of shared resources with the mission of advancing wireless technologies to create better products and services, and create new companies and jobs. The WRC’s novel approach to intellectual property does not require a share of jointly developed inventions, unique among research organizations globally.

We started a commercialization center through local grants for specialized equipment. Shortly after our founding we built a Satimo SG-64 Over the Air (OTA) test chamber. This was one of two that existed in the world with the capabilities, the other being at Satimo headquarters in France. This and other advanced technical services allow us to provide unique value to the companies which we work with. We can test antennas for performance from 400 MHz up to 18 GHz, and can test any device that someone wants to connect through a cellular network.

We were well-positioned for the IoT revolution, both technologically and economically. When machine-to-machine communication and IoT started taking off, we were attracting customers, both locally and around the globe.

In 2015, we established the economic development initiative RIoT to establish partnerships and collaboration for the Internet of Things. Thus far, RIoT has grown to include more than 6,000 members and 80 company sponsors throughout the nation.

RIoT has its own podcast channel highlighting different topics in tech:

RIoT is a community of technologists, engineers, business leaders, academics, policy makers and entrepreneurs. It operates an accelerator program (RAP) to support early stage startups and provide consulting services for corporate innovation teams. In addition, RIoT hosts coworking offices and prototype labs at HQ Raleigh and N.C. State University. Aligned with the core vision and mission of the WRC, RIoT helps connect entrepreneurs with the venture capital community to create and grow companies.

Through 2018, the WRC’s equipment, engineering and strategic business services have helped 21 start-up companies at the WRC headquarters and 60 companies at RIoT locations in Raleigh. Startups that have worked with WRC and RIoT have collectively raised over $350 million in investment capital.

How the WRC advances IoT technology

A core part of our mission is to maximize the impact of advancing technology. We partner on cutting-edge initiatives including 5G for smart cities, aviation, and next-gen communications.

We specialize in anything that needs a wireless transmitter/receiver. This includes radio across multiple frequency bands, various types of antennas, and all sorts of IoT communication protocols: LTE, 4G, 5G, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Bluetooth, LoRa, SigFox, GPS, etc.

Our broad understanding makes the WRC unique. Whether we’re ensuring an antenna has great communication, or getting a customer’s product approved by the FCC, we have the unique ability to help at all stages of development. This broad understanding also allows us to set realistic expectations. We’ve had a handful of customers approach us with unrealistic expectations, especially on the protocol level. Our experience and knowledge helps us set them in the right direction.

Our resources for making IoT solutions

We originally specialized in testing and development, and we maintain a leading technical position in this field.

WRC’s earned certifications include ISO 17025:2005; CTIA Authorized Test Lab; Verizon Approved Test Facility; AT&T IoT RF Consultants & Design Services

Our Satimo SG-64 test chamber, for example, can simulate most global cellular bands and protocols in order to evaluate radiated performance. This allows us to provide certified testing and official results for leading carriers like Verizon and AT&T. We also have three portable cell-on-wheel towers that can rise to 106 feet, as well as state-of-the-art whole-body phantoms, permitting unique device testing scenarios for new applications like vehicles, drones, and wearables.

For companies both large and small, we offer more than just the physical equipment. Our customers value our in-house antenna and radio frequency engineers who have an impressive breadth of expertise and experience. Before joining the WRC, our engineers had contributed to more than 100 issued patents in the areas of antenna technology and device design.

The WRC was founded on a strategic principle of not requiring an ownership share of IP developed through research and engineering services. Unlike corporate and academic research institutions that often require a share of IP, the WRC’s novel IP strategy is a cornerstone of the relationship of trust and true collaboration with customers and partners. The strategy is an ethical commitment to customers that inventions developed jointly will fully benefit their company and customers.

Companies work with WRC to:
  1. Help further develop an idea.
  2. Introduce them to engineering firms and business advisors.
  3. Advise them on acquiring VC funding and taking a product or service to market.

A typical customer will approach us with a need, after which we develop a strategy and produce a statement of work.

Several large companies contract with us to aid in the development of their emerging technologies. Based on their product plan, we dive into specific elements like new materials and technologies before providing them feedback and recommendations.

Bluetooth: an example of WRC’s help with IoT standards

Many people aren’t cognizant of the nuances of how antennas and radio frequencies work. When IoT started blossoming, many product designers were adding communication methods to their devices, thinking that was enough to make their device wireless. Many of the components and layout on the host device, however, weren’t designed in expectation of another radio nearby, leading to a lot of signal interference.

One of our early customers approached us with a Bluetooth modem that barely communicated across the table. They were scratching their heads as to why it didn’t reach the standard 100 yards expected of the technology. They had sandwiched their modem between two boards, creating a cage that didn’t let the radiation out. With our help, the next version of the board worked smoothly.

Generally, we prefer to get involved in a project as early as possible. We help a customer with pre-checks, certifications, and antennas. With antennas, you can either design it custom or buy one off-the-shelf. What’s on the antenna datasheet is often very different from what’s actually implemented. Understanding device integration is key. No matter the product – from wearable to vehicle to industrial setting – we have the experience to ensure an antenna performs well and solves the required customer use case.

Expanding opportunities with product development services

We are continuing to advance technology by providing the best in engineering resources, standing as the gateway to a large ecosystem of talent.

We focus on antennas and radio frequencies, but our ecosystem also includes baseband design, software networking, and the whole gamut for commercialization. We also have industrial designers, materials scientists, and outreach into user experience. We provide the right talent for the right opportunity.

Going forward, we’re also continuing to advance mission-critical and medical-critical applications to harmonize the interoperability of on-body or near-body devices.

If you have a Bluetooth headset, for instance, and a phone in your back pocket, you may notice it works well indoors. Outside, however, you may lose connectivity. That’s because the Bluetooth link requires reflections bouncing around and returning (not going through the body). That unreliability may be acceptable for consumer applications like streaming music, but not for medical-critical devices or first responders.

On April 1st, we launched a research center, The Public Safety Research Centre of North Carolina to further understand advanced wireless connectivity for first responders.

Personally, my favorite part of the job is connecting the dots between people and opportunities to solve big problems. We get to help people and companies turn their dreams into reality through cutting-edge technology that improves people’s lives.

Need help making an IoT product? Contact the Wireless Research Center.

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