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How to Manage RF Performance and Compliance of Connected Devices


Smart sensors can ensure every device in your home is connected, compliant, and performing.

It’s time to think: how many electronic devices do you own? I assume you have at least a cell phone, a home computer, your work laptop, and maybe another tablet or two. Am I right? In 2020, an average US household owned a dozen and growing consumer electronics (CE) devices.

Almost five years ago, annual consumer spending on technology was $1.6 trillion in the United States, and that figure is expected to reach $2.06 trillion by 2023. However, during this period, our lives were interrupted by a global pandemic. The initial uncertainties of COVID-19 forced millions of Americans to stay indoors and rethink how they interacted with tech products inside their homes on a daily basis. Many of us have been working remotely and school has moved online to virtual classrooms. This shift in work, school and play has prompted many of us to purchase new CE devices to perform better and to entertain us and our families.

David Wang

Provide the best customer experience

The way we use our consumer devices (tablets, laptops or smartphones) is essentially the same. We expect these devices to always deliver exactly what is asked of them. You might be streaming a movie on your smartphone and not expecting any network outages, or you might need your laptop running at peak performance while you manage a career entirely remotely. Whatever the situation, when you use these devices, you expect (and deserve) nothing less than an optimal experience.

Consumers don’t have to worry about the performance of their devices. You can be assured that the industry’s leading original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) design the best performing products in the best interests of consumers. OEMs are embedding smart sensors inside their connected devices to deliver always-on connectivity, longer battery life, and high-performance experiences.

The Rise of 5G Devices and Consumer Expectations

Major US carriers have launched 5G networks, with 5G smartphone revenues expected to reach $337 billion by 2025. To ensure these smartphones work with the fastest 5G networks and support bandwidths higher, OEMs need to add more radio frequency (RF) antennas into the design without hampering battery performance or device form factor. The connectivity challenge is also prevalent among laptop and tablet manufacturers. These devices must support many different wireless protocols, from sub-6 5G to Wi-Fi 6, which can add complexity to product designs.

As consumers, we’ve become accustomed to (and demand) the best experiences our devices provide. We rarely think about the design challenges manufacturers face when creating these products. What industry regulations are required when designing? How do OEMs balance performance and connectivity with industry compliance requirements?

For today’s connected devices, OEMs must design and release devices that meet global Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) standards. SAR is a measurement of the amount of RF energy absorbed by the body when a person uses a connected device. Manufacturers are required to ensure that wireless devices such as smartphones, tablets or laptops meet the SAR standards required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) before they can be shipped to US markets.

When we talked earlier about all the appliances in your household, consider that each of them is regulated and must be compliant before they can be shipped. In the United States, SAR compliance is 1.6 W/kg (more than 1 gram of tissue) with a separation distance of 25 millimeters. For Europe, the SAR limit is 2 W/kg (more than 10 grams of tissue) with a separation distance of 5 millimeters.

More than 65% of Americans have found a new way to work that doesn’t require a daily office visit, and six in 10 American workers are still able to do their jobs remotely. Instead, with our laptops close at hand, any place can become our office. And because we can work from anywhere, we now take regular video calls. We expect to have the best connectivity possible, regardless of our location. The impact of this requirement is two-fold: will your laptop be able to support these workloads while remaining SAR compliant?

Smart sensors are the answer

Smart sensors intelligently ensure devices deliver the best experience at all times. Consumers can expect their devices to stay connected and extended battery life for any demand placed on the product. When designing 5G-enabled devices, for example, an increase in the number of antennas is required to improve connectivity, but the device must remain SAR compliant.

These sensors can detect human presence and allow RF emissions to be adjusted to maintain optimum performance. Smart sensors are highly accurate and can distinguish an inanimate object from a human, ensuring the device is always operating at peak performance. For example, a pen next to your laptop keyboard will not cause a drop in RF performance. However, if you were to move the laptop from your desk to the couch and work on your lap, you can rest assured that your laptop detects your proximity to the device and self-regulates for compliance.

How many CE devices have you counted in your home? Six, or maybe seven? It’s important that each of your devices provides the functionality and performance you need at all times. Smart sensors can ensure every device in your home is connected, compliant, and performing. Smart sensors can give you that.

David Wong is the Senior Director of Consumer Sensing Products for Semtech’s Wireless and Sensing Products Group. He is responsible for the recently launched PerSe smart sensor platform for improved connectivity and SAR compliance in mobile devices (5G/Wi-Fi) and intuitive control in wearable applications.