IoT hardware development, how to choose wireless SoC?
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IoT hardware development, how to choose wireless SoC?

Posted Date: 2024-01-19

IoT ecosystem

If the Internet has changed the way we work and communicate, then the Internet of Things enables human-machine and machine-machine interaction by connecting multiple devices to the Internet at once. Today, the IoT ecosystem has a wide range of commercial applications not only in specific fields, but also in home automation, vehicle automation, factory automation, medical, retail, healthcare and other fields.

This seemingly ubiquitous Internet of Things is mainly composed of four components, including: sensors/devices, connections, data processing and user interfaces, involving multiple technical fields. Today, we focus on radio frequency technology that plays the role of connecting smart devices in the Internet of Things.

Why choose wireless SoC for IoT hardware development?

The Internet of Things is realized by a variety of technologies, and radio frequency technology is one of the essential components. For example, wearable devices use radio frequency modules to connect and communicate with smartphones and other smart devices; smart home devices use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connects devices to the Internet; RFID technology is the first choice for fast connections in industry, supply chain management, smart agriculture, and many other applications; wireless transceivers integrated modules with temperature, humidity, and fire sensors are even more popular in industrial IoT applications Essential component.

During the IoT development process, designers often struggle to find affordable, high-performance and high-function RF devices. To achieve this, SoC solutions offer significant advantages over other, less integrated options.

For example, the bill of materials corresponding to the multi-chip solution may require extensive supplier procurement, and the manufacturing cost may be higher than that of the SoC; in order to ensure that all components can work together accurately, the multi-chip solution will require more debugging during the research and development phase. time, which may lengthen the time it takes for a product to enter the market.

The SoC-based solution is much simpler from conception to design to completion of manufacturing. It not only shortens the time to market of the product, but the low power consumption feature is a great help for battery-powered IoT devices.

How to choose a wireless SoC for IoT?

Adding wireless devices to IoT devices significantly increases device complexity. Typically, IoT devices use a variety of wireless protocols, including Wi-Fi, BLE, Zigbee, Thread, Z-Wave, and cellular. The choice of wireless communication protocol for a specific device depends on the application, size, cost, power and several other factors.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is a protocol for home temperature sensors that is low power, cheap, and provides the necessary coverage in a typical home environment; NFC is suitable for applications like contactless payments, and it Has extremely small range and extremely low throughput; for many applications, including security cameras, Wi-Fi provides the higher data throughput needed. In many cases, what we need is an RF component that can support multiple wireless protocols.

So, how will we solve the requirement that an IoT device must support multiple protocols? The answer given by semiconductor manufacturers is: wireless SoC. Because wireless SoC has three major advantages:

1. Smaller size

The physically smaller size and the integration of more peripherals make the total cost of the device lower, which is very helpful for product designers to design smaller and more innovative products. These advantages are applicable to almost all IoT terminal applications.

2. Multi-protocol integration

Wireless SoCs provide IoT developers with a multi-protocol integration solution that simplifies design by internally handling coexistence issues between multiple protocols on the same ISM band.

3. Simple management

Wireless SoCs eliminate the problem of managing RF designs for multiple devices.

There are many important considerations when choosing a wireless SoC for IoT devices. There is no doubt that for IoT applications, power consumption must be one of the very important factors in selecting wireless SoC. If you want to find a wireless SoC that is very suitable for the application, in addition to power consumption, the following factors must also be considered, including wireless protocol, performance, price, size, tool support and ease of integration.

Among them, application and performance requirements are key to decision-making. For example, BLE is a very suitable protocol for applications such as home temperature sensing. It has low power consumption and lower cost than some other protocols, and its coverage fully meets the needs of typical home environments.

The throughput of NFC is not large and the data transmission distance is short, but it is a suitable choice for applications such as contactless payments. Wi-Fi is a wireless local area network (LAN) protocol based on the 802.11 b/g/n standard. From a user's perspective, Wi-Fi is access to the Internet through wireless-enabled devices such as mobile phones, tablets, or laptops. . Most modern devices support Wi-Fi, making Wi-Fi a common way to communicate wirelessly in fixed locations. Therefore, Wi-Fi is the first choice for IoT applications that require higher throughput, such as security cameras.

What kind of wireless SoC will be favored by the market?

Below we will introduce several multi-protocol wireless SoCs that are powerful, widely used and well received by the market.

Microchip PIC32CX-BZ2 Series

For wireless lighting, home automation, Internet of Things, industrial automation and other low-power Bluetooth or Zigbee-related applications, Microchip has launched the PIC32CX-BZ2 series, a wireless SoC based on Arm Cortex M4F. In addition to Bluetooth low-power wireless In addition to SoC functions, it also includes Zigbee protocol stack and over-the-air (OTA) update functions.

The SoC integrates radio frequency support modules certified by global regulations - Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) 5.2 and Zigbee 3.0. Hardware functions also include a 12-bit analog-to-digital converter (ADC), multiple control timers/counters ( TCC) channel, an onboard encryption engine, and a set of interfaces for touch, CAN, sensors, displays, and other peripherals.

The BLE and Zigbee software stack is built on the powerful MPLAB Harmony v3 framework to ensure seamless multi-protocol implementation. The integrated MPLAB Code Configurator enables developers to quickly start prototyping the PIC32CX-BZ2 family using drag-and-drop automatic code generation technology.


Figure 1: PIC32CX-BZ2 series wireless SoC (Source: Mouser)

Nordic nRF52832

Nordic's nRF52832 is an excellent solution for applications that require advanced BLE functionality, protocol concurrency, and a rich variety of peripherals and features. This is a general-purpose multi-protocol wireless SoC that is powerful and highly flexible. It achieves exceptionally low energy consumption through the use of a sophisticated on-chip adaptive power management system and is ideally suited for BLE, ANT and 2.4GHz ultra-low power wireless applications. . The nRF52832 SoC uses a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4F CPU with 512kB flash memory and 64kB RAM. The embedded 2.4GHz transceiver supports BLE, ANT and proprietary 2.4GHz protocol stack. In addition, the nRF52832 features NFC-A tags that can be used to simplify pairing and payment solutions.


Figure 2: nRF52832 is a general-purpose multi-protocol wireless SoC (Source: Nordic semiconductor)

Nordic nRF58220

nRF58220 is another multi-protocol wireless SoC from Nordic that provides USB and advanced wireless connectivity in a small package for HID, smart home, commercial and industrial applications. This SoC has two major features: first, it supports a very rich range of wireless communications. The 2.4GHz multi-protocol radio is fully functional, including all BLE functions, as well as Bluetooth Mesh, Thread and Zigbee Mesh protocols, which can provide up to +8dBm output power; second, It adds a USB interface to enable low-latency and high-bandwidth communication with a range of hosts such as PCs, tablets, smartphones, and gateways.

In addition, the nRF58220 has added the option to perform device firmware updates (DFU) over USB. When connected to a USB host, the nRF58220 can be powered directly by the 5V VBUS signal. nRF58220 uses an Arm Cortex-M4 processor with a clock frequency of 64MHz, 256KB flash memory and 32KB RAM, and a series of analog and digital interfaces, such as analog comparators, UART, SPI, TWI, QDEC and USB.


Figure 3: nRF58220 SoC providing USB and advanced wireless connectivity (Source: Nordic semiconductor)

NXP 88MW32X

For applications such as various smart devices and smart accessories in home, enterprise and industrial automation, you can choose NXP's 88MW32X, a highly integrated, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi dual-band microcontroller SoC that only Few external components are required for complete system operation.

The 88MW320/322 SoC, which has been widely used in this series, has a built-in Arm Cortex-M4F CPU with a working frequency of up to 200MHz. It also supports integrated 512KB SRAM, 128KB mask ROM and QSPI interface for external flash memory. The integrated flash controller with 32KB SRAM cache supports execution-in-place (XIP) of flash firmware, enabling low system cost and high WLAN protocol handling. For example, the high level of integration in the SoC requires only a 3.3V power input, 38.4MHz crystal and SPI flash memory, while the RF path only requires a low-pass filter for the antenna connection.

NXP's proven and mature IEEE 802.11n/g/b technology powers the full-featured WLAN subsystem in the SoC. The WLAN subsystem integrates the WLAN MAC, baseband and direct conversion RF radio, and integrates PA, LINA and transmit/receive switches. It also integrates the CPU subsystem with integrated memory to run the NXP WLAN firmware, handling real-time WLAN protocol processing, thus offloading many WLAN functions from the main application CPU.

In addition, the 88MW322 SoC includes a high-speed USB On-The-Go (OTG) interface to support USB audio, video and other applications. A complete set of digital and analog interfaces enables direct interfacing of I/O and avoids the need for external chips. The application CPU can be used to support custom application development and avoid the need for another microcontroller or processor. High integration and low power operation make the 88MW320/322 an ideal solution for low-cost, high-efficiency smart devices, appliances and energy applications.


Figure 4: NXP 88MW32X is a dual-band microcontroller SoC that supports 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi (Source: NXP)

While there are many advantages to integrating a wireless SoC, its main challenge currently is that designers lack the flexibility to optimize compute performance or wireless performance independently, and the functionality of the wireless SoC itself is immutable because it cannot perform the same tasks as discrete solutions. Optimize individual components or features of a product individually.

Conclusion

IoT provides a platform for all devices to dump data and a common language for how all devices communicate with each other. Data is emitted from the device via various sensors and securely sent to the IoT platform. Mckinsey said in his research report that the potential value of the Internet of Things is huge and continues to grow. It is estimated that by 2030, global revenue from the Internet of Things may be as high as 12.5 trillion US dollars, excluding a quarter of the industrial sector. Applications, the economic impact of IoT in human health settings could reach around 14% of the total estimated value.

The development of the Internet of Things (IoT), a vast ecosystem of connected devices, has opened a door of opportunity for investors, technology companies, and engineers to study, analyze, and improve traditional systems and transform them into smarter, energy-efficient, and secure system. RF technology allows us to easily connect smart IoT devices to each other without any complex configuration requirements.

For the design of IoT gateways or other devices, it is difficult to choose a suitable wireless SoC that fully meets the application requirements. Power consumption, size, and cost are just a few variables that need to be carefully considered. For IoT applications and networks, SoCs also need to support a rich set of wireless protocols, which will involve factors such as coverage, latency, and throughput. Because performance tradeoffs depend on the specific application, key design requirements such as battery life, compute power and memory resources, and floor space also need to be carefully evaluated.


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