Electronic Design
Image courtesy of Samsung

(Image courtesy of Samsung).

An Upgrade to Wi-Fi Provides Precise Time Synchronization

A new Wi-Fi feature could enable devices like wireless speakers, automotive cameras, and wearable sensors for hospital patients to better coordinate their timing. TimeSync, as it is called, would let devices work in alignment on tasks like streaming audio into different rooms of a house without distortion.

The new feature is designed to ensure that the clocks in electronic devices are synchronized down to less than a microsecond, letting wireless speakers on different sides of a living room, for instance, play audio at the same time during a movie. If the connected speakers are out of synch, the audio can echo or lag behind the movie.

The Wi-Fi Alliance announced the new feature on Tuesday in Las Vegas at the International CES, formerly known as Consumer Electronics Show, where smart wireless speakers like the Amazon Echo factored into multiple product announcements. A TimeSync certification program will appear later this year, but semiconductor firms will have to create new Wi-Fi chips including the feature.

The wireless audio industry has grappled with time synchronization for years. Sonos was among the first to crack the problem, using a mesh networking version of Wi-Fi that allows wireless speakers to coordinate their audio. Others have worked on a technology that shares audio by linking devices together in a loop and skipping wireless messages between them. But it still remains a key challenge, said Jaward Haider, marketing manager at Marvell Semiconductor, in a recent interview with Electronic Design.

TimeSync is initially targeting wireless audio applications, but it could also benefit industrial and automotive systems. It could coordinate wireless microcontrollers in a fleet of tractors harvesting corn on a farm, while also sending equipment diagnostics to the internet. It could also potentially link automotive cameras to help cars avoid obstacles in the road.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has started adding a number of new capabilities to standard in recent years. In 2015, it announced Wi-Fi Aware, a feature that allows devices to automatically identify nearby devices without connecting to the internet. Last year, it revealed plans to create a low-power standard for 2018 called HaLow, which would serve as an alternative to cellular networks for linking sensors.

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