Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Huawei and Nowi bring energy harvesting to NB-IoT

Steve Rogerson
June 27, 2019

Huawei has combined its NB-IoT device SoC with Dutch semiconductor firm Nowi’s energy harvesting PMIC for IoT applications requiring low power autonomous operation.
Energy harvesting is used to power the NB-IoT SoC indefinitely through a PMIC (power management IC) and attached solar panel. This removes the need for manual intervention such as changing batteries or cabling to supply power in applications that need zero maintenance and zero power supply.
The combination uses a Huawei Boudica V150 development board that enables plug and play of various sensors and peripherals alongside the integrated V150 NB-IoT SoC and battery charging circuitry based on Nowi’s NW-A2.3 PMIC energy harvesting device.
Power has proven to be a bottleneck in the adoption of many IoT applications, with battery maintenance or power cabling reducing the RoI of an IoT system significantly. Battery life in many use-cases is shorter than the application life, thus requiring maintenance during system usage and thereby increasing IoT total cost of ownership. IoT nodes are typically distributed in remote or difficult to access areas, making cables impossible and changing batteries even more expensive.
“Huawei is dedicated to achieving a fully connected, intelligent world and, as a pioneer in low power wireless chip technology, we see energy harvesting as a key component in achieving ubiquitous connectivity for our customers,” said Charles Sturman, senior director at Huawei Technologies. “We are, therefore excited to be working with Nowi in this area.”
Nowi, a private semiconductor company based in the Netherlands, has pioneered energy harvesting technology that enables capturing of ambient energy sources such as light, temperature gradients or radio frequency, with high efficiency. It has achieved this while lowering the PCB assembly footprint by 30 times and removing the need for many external components such as inductors. As a result, its energy harvesting technology can both power and fit into virtually any small IoT device, or even in RF modems directly, and thereby enables these devices to become plug and forget.
“The Boudica V150 NB-IoT SoC is a market leading IoT communications device integrating modem, radio, power management, application subsystem and dedicated security core in a single chip,” said Simon van der Jagt, CEO of Nowi. “With only a few required external components, it enables low system cost and is able to support all of the global NB-IoT frequencies while operating direct-from-battery with ultra-low current draw. As such, it is the ideal device to be paired with our breakthrough energy harvesting technology to achieve power autonomy without sacrificing functionality.”
The low-power design of the V150 chip together with the energy harvesting efficiency of the Nowi PMIC, he said, made it possible to harvest sufficient energy for frequent NB-IoT transmissions, allowing autonomous connectivity for up to 15 years.
Possible applications include smart cities, where devices can be placed spread over large areas, making maintenance costly if not impossible. The bulk of smart city business cases require energy harvesting to be viable. Also, IoT nodes can be used for tracking and monitoring in various industrial applications. The devices are often placed in dangerous or difficult to reach places, making any form of maintenance problematic.
The technology also suits wearable devices for health purposes that require the devices to have a high degree of autonomy. NB-IoT and energy harvesting make it possible for the user to have connectivity without a smartphone in close proximity and without having to remember to charge the device frequently.
Nowi, based in Delft, Netherlands, was founded in 2015.