/Expertise/Connectivity technology/Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for the IoT

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) for the IoT

As more connected devices enrich our surroundings, our need for dependable, low-power and safe connectivity options increases. And for lots of applications, an advanced BLE technology perfectly fits the bill.

Automatically unlocking your car when you walk up to it. Paying for groceries without struggling to find your wallet. Sending health data collected by a wearable or even implantable device directly to your smartphone. All without needing to worry about privacy or security.

Read more about the use of Bluetooth in medical devices.

Those are the ways in which the Internet of things (IoT) can make our lives easier. It relies on a backbone of small, battery-powered devices such as beacons and sensors – connected to each other and to the cloud.

In order to realize those connections, the technology must be compatible with:

  • the design constraints of IoT devices: small and highly integrated form factor, reliable and ultra-low-power operation
  • the existing networking technology in server devices such as smartphones

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) fits the description. And by adding new capabilities for highly accurate and secure distance measurement (ranging), its current use cases are expanded to next-gen wireless secure access and proximity solutions, item finding, asset tracking, real-time location systems (RTLS) and indoor positioning systems (IPS).

This is what imec’s experts are working on, both on a hardware and software level.

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Smart locks

Next-gen BLE is an important enabler for IoT applications such as smart locks.

BLE hardware design

Imec’s BLE radio designs and IP enable an on-chip transceiver that’s ideal for IoT implementations because of its best-in-class performance at the world’s lowest power consumption.

Its key features are:

  • multi-standard 2.4 GHz analog front-end
  • novel phase-tracking receiver architecture
  • advanced digital transmitter
  • low cost
  • ultra-low power consumption
  • best-in-class sensitivity
  • robustness to interference
  • designed in TSMC 40nm ULP for 0.8V nominal supply

Download the leaflet for a complete overview.

Localization solution

Imec’s up-to-30-cm-accurate and secure localization solution based on BLE.

This BLE design and IP is accessible through licensing. An evaluation board is available upon your request.

Do you want additional assistance in developing your IoT hardware solution? We are ready to assist you with:

  • system and IC implementation
  • antenna design with regard to form factor, materials, and packaging
  • design, prototyping, and low-volume manufacturing of custom low-power radio ASICs
  • access to high-volume production by our foundry partners

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BLE algorithms: precise and secure ranging for the IoT

The ability to use Bluetooth signals for distance measurement presents excellent opportunities for applications such as location-based secure access and proximity marketing. However, current standards fall short in terms of both accuracy and security.

Current BLE-ranging solutions only reach an accuracy of about 3 meters. They use the received signal strength (RSSI) method, which especially struggles in challenging (indoor) environments with lots of reflections.

Imec’s ranging solution uses a combination of a phase-based distance estimation protocol and advanced signal processing. This enables the system to separate line-of-sight from multipath signals and to reach sub-meter accuracy – even up to 30 cm if multiple antennas are used.

imec localization improvement over typical performance

What’s more, imec’s secure distance bounding protocol ensures that it’s impossible to falsify the proximity of a device – through so-called location spoofing or relay attacks. Download our whitepaper to learn more.

Key features of imec’s BLE algorithms for IoT applications:

  • up to 30-cm ranging accuracy
  • suitable for standard 2.4 GHz radio
  • secured against relay attacks
  • requires low processing power

Download the leaflet to explore the details. Or contact us to discuss your challenge.