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Small Murata IoT Component Links BLE, NFC

The company's fingernail-sized MBN52832 module can collect sensor data and forward it wirelessly via BLE or NFC, enabling IoT applications with very small controls in lighting, health care, agriculture or other vertical markets.
By Claire Swedberg

NFC could also help to establish a BLE connection more directly, by eliminating the need for a new user to input a passcode to access or share BLE-based data. Two immediate applications for the device, Fang says, will be the development of lighting-control devices, such as light bulbs or lighting-control switches.

The BLE functionality will enable a device with the MBN52832 unit to transmit or receive beacon transmissions to or from a user's smartphone, in order to create a long read range connection to the Internet via that phone. Conversely, Fang notes, users could set up their own BLE-based gateway using a Wi-Fi or cellular connection to send BLE-based data, including sensor measurements and the device's unique ID, to a server at predetermined intervals.

Beyond smart buildings and homes, as well as agricultural settings, Fang predicts the new component will be used in medical devices such as blood pressure or glucose monitors that could collect sensor data and then transmit that information to a phone via BLE. NFC could be used to program a Web link for users—for instance, the device could link an individual's phone, via NFC or BLE, to a website where he or she could learn more information about a given product or appliance to which a smart device is attached.

The advent of BLE mesh technology, Fang says, makes that even more advantageous. Lighting control or other building-intelligence solutions could take advantage of a BLE mesh network, by allowing users to forward messages through a large building or space via the devices, thereby creating a location for tracking assets and controlling lighting.

The new Murata unit was first released in limited numbers in September 2017, and has since been piloted with several products, though Fang declines to describe the specific pilots or name the companies undertaking those projects. At present, the module is available in large volumes. "People have tried to develop IoT solutions more and more using BLE," he says. Now, with a unit that also includes NFC functionality, those companies will have greater flexibility.

Fang says he expects the product to initially be tested and used in modest volumes. "IoT never starts with large volumes," Fang states. Instead, developers first need to test their own solutions. According to Fang, the module comes with a $40 design kit to facilitate development efforts.

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