Highlights of the First Weightless Plenary Conference

Yesterday (9th May 2012), I had the opportunity to attend the second day of the Weightless SIG’s first plenary conference in Cambridge, England. In total, around 40 people were present with most of them representatives of the SIG’s membership base. Interestingly, representatives from a number of non-member companies such as Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone were also present, illustrating that MNOs are paying close attention to the development of the Weightless standard and the use of white space in M2M applications.

The day consisted of presentations madeby chairmen of the SIG's six sub-groups (Applications, MAC, PHY, Regulatory, Security and Testing & Certification),each of whom provided an update on their “chapter” of the Weightless standard specifications. Following several rounds of healthy debate among the assembled technophiles, agreement was reached to move the standard from version 0.6 (released during the inaugural meeting of the SIG back in September 2011) to version 0.7. With plenaries due to be held every quarter, the SIG aims to advance the standard by 0.1 on each occasion, culminating in the release of version 1.0 in Q1 2013. At this time the SIG plans to deliver the standard to ETSI for formal ratification.

Some further revelations made by the SIG, as well as important facets of the evolving standard are as follows:

  • Weightless aims to be a global standard that is application agnostic. There is no intention to create application-specification profiles like the ZigBee Alliance has done.
  • Smart metering is likely to be one of the very early applications for Weightless. Other target applications include healthcare, asset tracking and automotive, to name but a few.
  • PSKs (pre-shared keys) with AES-128 encryption will be used to ensure security in the link layer (the connection between base stations and terminals).
  • Peak data rates have been improved by 7 per cent due to an increase in signal bandwidth from 3.75 MHz to 4 MHz.
  • Testing and certification is to cover base stations and terminals.

One of the main talking points of the day involved the issue of algorithm longevity (with respect to AES-128 encryption) and whether it will become disreputable during the time period in which a terminal/base station is deployed. As such, algorithm replacement was mooted and it remains to be seen whether a different level of encryption will be incorporated into the standard at subsequent plenaries. Another point likely to be discussed in the future is the issue of whether the SIG will allow other bodies to carry out testing and certification of products. Given the presence on the day of companies operating in this field, it would seem likely.

All in all, the sessions were very interesting with delegates extremely enthusiastic about the future of white space in the M2M space. One, in particular, remarked that he expected to see the first large-scalecommercial white space M2M deployments within the next 24 months. ABI Research is certainly keeping a close eye on this market, with a research report dedicated to the topic due later this year.