Article
Have you noticed how the word “smart” is now being attached to everything from pill boxes to kitchen ranges? At times, it can seem “smart” is just today’s version of the old “new and improved” slogan many of us grew up with a few decades back. But in a lot of cases, these intelligent devices offer real value, with even more benefits to come in just the next few years. This is the promise of what’s come to be known as the “Internet of Things” – or, IoT, for short.

How Tiny Antennas Help Power the Growing Internet of Things

Chuck Ross
Have you noticed how the word “smart” is now being attached to everything from pill boxes to kitchen ranges? At times, it can seem “smart” is just today’s version of the old “new and improved” slogan many of us grew up with a few decades back. But in a lot of cases, these intelligent devices offer real value, with even more benefits to come in just the next few years. This is the promise of what’s come to be known as the “Internet of Things” – or, IoT, for short.

Now, not all the products manufacturers have labelled as smart fall into the IoT category. Some of these devices might have some added onboard intelligence that automatically adjusts how they operate based on existing conditions. For example, some electric razors now have smart capabilities that allow them to adjust power based on just how thick a beard might be. True IoT products, on the other hand, incorporate connectivity that allows them to communicate with other devices (like smartphones) and with the broader internet.

These capabilities are enabled by tiny antennas embedded into these products’ designs. You might remember the days when cellphones had external antennas to help improve their reception. If you’ve since replaced your old flip phone with a more up-to-date smartphone, you might think that antenna has disappeared – instead, it’s moved inside the phone’s case. Similarly, the newest thermostats, door locks, refrigerators and even washers and dryers now feature antennas that enable consumers to monitor and control them remotely.

The antennas are designed to support the major communications protocols we’ve all begun to become used to, even if we don’t really understand them. These include:

  • Bluetooth, used for device-to-device, nearby communications. You’ll use Bluetooth technology when you power up your wireless headphones. Some smart light switches and bulbs also use Bluetooth (or its low-power version, Bluetooth Low Energy). With Bluetooth, communications are only between devices, and the internet isn’t involved. This means Bluetooth devices continue to communicate even if your modem is down. It also makes these products difficult to hack.

  • Wi-Fi, which is the technology used to connect to the internet. As a result, you can control Wi-Fi devices remotely, even when you’re far outside Bluetooth’s limited range of 30 feet or so.
Photo courtesy of Molex
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