A “Canned” Module/IC Solution Simplifies Wireless Implementation, but Potential Design-in Issues Remain

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A “Canned” Module/IC Solution Simplifies Wireless Implementation, but Potential Design-in Issues Remain

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A “Canned” Module/IC Solution Simplifies Wireless Implementation, but Potential Design-in Issues Remain

Graphic depicting Wi-Fi connectivity

Every RF design has subtleties which can affect regulatory compliance; passive components have an important role in minimizing risk and delay.

Incorporating wireless connectivity into a product is now a standard design requirement for Wi-Fi, IoT, and other applications. And the good news is that it’s much easier than it was just a few years ago. While a custom design may be the best or only choice for very low-end applications (a simple pointto-point link signaling a door has been left open, for example) and for high-end challenges (such as mil/aero installations), the overwhelming majority of RF designs are better satisfied by using a nearly complete wireless module or IC, or a vendorsupplied reference design.

Regardless of design approach, the final shippable product must meet various regulatory mandates, which are primarily related to transmit power level, the operating frequency, and the operating region of the world. Deciding which approach to use for providing that RF connectivity includes tradeoffs in time to market, design and performance risk, BOM cost, and regulatory approval standards. Most design teams will look first to a module and IC approach, then look next to a fully documented reference design, rather than try to go it alone and develop a custom wireless link.

Highly Integrated Does Not Mean Absolutely Complete It may seem that using a standard module or IC is a simple solution with no problems, and that a well-documented and tested reference design is almost as problem-free. That’s not quite correct. Although they may be relatively simple, all wireless approaches still have potential issues. They all have several factors in common: they need a DC power supply, they may need RF bandpass filtering, and they need an antenna. These are areas where the completed design can have performance and regulatory issues, even if the module is certified and approved, or the core of the design has been used in an approved system.The Texas Instruments CC2530 system-on-chip

Reality is that a module or IC which is approached and certified for compliance with various regulatory mandates is a major headstart to the process, but it’s the final system design which must still meet standards. A certified module is a necessary but not sufficient condition for approval. Of course, for ICs and reference designs, there is no approval except possibly in the particular implementation that was built by the vendor — but only if it was submitted for approval; “paper designs” or even demonstration unit breadboards are not the same as the completed product.

A look at a highly integrated, high-performance IC shows the scope of the issues. The CC2530 from Texas Instruments is a second-generation, extreme low-power system-on-chip (SoC) supporting 802.15.4/ZigBee/RF4CE operation at 2483.5MHz. It targets remote control s (replacing the classic IR remote) as well as Zigbee designs in applications such as home/building automation, lighting systems, industrial control and monitoring, low-power wireless sensor networks, consumer electronics, and health care.

The key phrase here is “nearly complete.” These solutions may be highly integrated and include the system processor plus operating system, layers for format/protocol, and even analog front end (if any), or they may provide only RF portion of the system. Regardless of the level of functionality, it’s unlikely that what is called a “canned” module will include the antenna and power supply. Of course, the IC certainly won’t have either one, while a reference design is just that: a starting point with detailed documentation.

The internal block diagram (Figure 1) shows the high level of functionality that this IC offers, with MCU, multiple memories, an eight-channel/12-bit ADC, a 2.4-GHz RF transceiver, and USB Controller, among its many features. The design is optimized for high receiver sensitivity and is also designed for robustness to interference, the transmit side has programmable output power up to 4.5 dBm. Power saving is also a focus, with a variety of power-on and power-down modes (idle, sleep, interrupt-only) modes to maximize battery life


Figure 1: The Texas Instruments CC2530 system-on-chip IC is optimized for 802.15.4/ZigBee operation at 2483.5MHz and features power-saving transmit and receive modes as well as fullon to deep-sleep operating regimes; the IC incorporates almost all functions and circuitry needed for a complete sensor-to-RF link. (Source: Texas Instruments)

While the internal block diagram is impressive and clearly shows the level of functional integration and capability, the system-level interconnect diagram (Figure 2) shows some of the additional challenges designers must overcome when using this IC (or any one of the many that are similar to it). Note that the figure does not show the decoupling capacitors for the 2.0 V to 3.6 V powersupply rail, which are mandated by TI (with good reason). Of course, even a few centimeters of wire – whether as a discrete wire or a PC-board track – can also become an antenna and thus pick up ambient RF, or radiate it to nearby circuitry

interconnection diagram for the CC2510
Figure 2: The interconnection diagram for the CC2510 shows the external passive components required for connection to a singleended 50Ω antenna; filters may also be needed for supply-rail noise and bandpass limiting. (Source: Texas Instruments)

Start with the DC supply, since a solid rail is the basis for reliable and consistent system performance. The supply is most likely a single-cell battery or multiple batteries with a DC/DC switching regulator to ensure stable DC even as the battery output drops or the load demand changes. Even a few millivolts of RF noise on the DC rail for the RF section can cause subtle problems which result in non-compliance or inadequate performance. This noise can come from the regulator or from other components using the same rails, from nearby digital noise being picked up by the supply rail tracks, or as EMI/RFI from the transmitted RF itself.A ferrite bead

Ferrite beads on the supply lines, whether these lines are discrete wires or PC board traces, provide a simple, effective, and lowcost solution. For example, the HZ0603B102R series of ferrite beads from Laird PLC is optimized for differential-mode EMI suppression (Figure 3). These low-cost, tiny components – just 1.6 mm long, with a 0603 body style– are effective to 100 MHz, can handle up to 200 mA, and have no technical tradeoffs or downsides. Don’t be fooled, though: despite their ease-of-use and functional simplicity, they have well- defined characteristics and the vendor even offers Spice models for these modest devices.


Figure 3: A ferrite bead such as those in the HZ0603B102R series from Laird PLC can provide effective suppression of noise on DC rails without affecting DC performance. Note the sharp increase in impedance with increasing frequency. (Source: Laird PLC)
There are often other filtering situations, but far away from the DC end of the electromagnetic spectrum. Bandpass filtering prevents unwanted out-of-band emissions, and is often needed for compliance with regulatory standards. As a complementary benefit, these filters also prevent out-of-band interference with the receive side of the wireless link, which could lead to cross-modulation, unwanted interactions, and even saturation in some cases.

For example, for simple RF remote control links at 433.92 MHz (usually done as a limited-function custom design to avoid the power dissipation and cost of a standard IC or module), TDK’s B3780 series of SAW bandpass filters is an option. These filters – just 3.8 × 3.8 × 1.5 mm – have a typical 3-dB bandwidth of 780 kHz, with minimum/maximum bandwidths of 850 and 920 kHz, respectively. In order to provide a 50Ω impedance match, the user may have to add matching circuitry, which can be accomplished with L and C elements created within the PC board layout, or by using discrete components (Figure 4).

Iot Bandpass filters
Figure 4: Bandpass filters may also be needed to either suppress unwanted RF emission or block RFI/EMI from affecting the system. This tiny unit from TDK can be combined with discrete or PC board capacitors and inductors for impedance matching if needed. (Source: TDK)

Antennas: Discrete or PC Board?

Every wireless system needs an antenna, and there are two very different ways to implement one at the 500+ MHz frequencies of these designs: use a discrete antenna, or one which is fabricated as part of the PC board’s “real estate”. There are distinct tradeoffs associated with each approach.

Discrete antenna pros:

  • can be located away from RF circuitry;
  • no unintended interaction with RF circuits and its location is not affected by, nor has effects on, that circuitry;
  • has minimal impact on product-packaging arrangement
  • requires no PC board space except for connector (if used);
  • requires no design expertise to create or use: just connect it and it is ready.

Discrete antenna cons:

  • has obvious cost as an item on the BOM;
  • may add to overall product size if located internal to enclosure;
  • if external, can be misplaced or damaged by user.

PC board antenna pros:

  • has no apparent cost on BOM, except for a slight increase in PC board size;
  • it is one less item to source;
  • can be custom-tailored for unique frequencies, bandwidths, and polarizations;
  • can be designed to attenuate specific undesired signals, in band or out-of-band.

PC board antenna cons

  • requires some PC board space, which may be limited;
  • is sensitive to placement of nearby components, and may constrain layout options;
  • while there are many standard designs available, they still require skill to design into the system;
  • require skill in embedding into the board layout, even if using a standard design;
  • are inherently hard to debug, and inflexible if there are problems;
  • may have issues related to impedance matching, and require additional components or redesign;
  • may require extra-tight tolerances in the PC board manufacturing process.

Molex Omnidirectional AntenaIf the decision is to use a discrete antenna, vendors offer a wide range of standard options, including single-band units to antennas which support multiband operation. One example of a simple-looking yet high-performance unit is the 1052630001 from Molex (Figure 5) a tiny six-band unit with 3 dBi gain (omnidirectional pattern, linear polarization); see Table forband listing. This compact patch antenna, just 107 L × 13 W × 0.1 mm deep, is well-suited to supporting the latest generation of cellular links, which are multiband designs. The antenna comes standard with a 50Ω microcoaxial interconnection cable that is 100-mm long; 150 and 200-mm lengths are available as standard options for maximum flexibility in installation and use.


Figure 5: No wireless system is complete without an antenna; this 1052630001 omnidirectional unit from Molex supports six bands simultaneously and connects via a standard microcoax cable and connector. (Source: Molex)

Using a simple, one-band, off-the-shelf 50Ω antenna does not mean that the designer of the wireless system just connects it to the IC and the job is done. Looking again at the interconnection diagram for the Texas Instruments CC2510, there are three inductors and six capacitors between its RF port and the 50Ω antenna. These passive components are needed as a balun to transform the balanced RF interface of the IC to a single-ended topology compatible with the antenna. Another option is to use a balanced, folded-dipole antenna, but impedance matching may still be needed. The components also implement impedance matching between the two points to maximize energy transfer and minimize signal loss and VSWR, which can result in undesired effects such as excess dissipation and even amplifier distortion due to energy reflecting back to the source.

Summary

Regardless of the wireless-implementation approach chosen (module, IC, reference design, or custom), meeting regulatory requirements can be a challenge ranging from modest to severe. Rather than go directly to final, formal approval tests, many design teams choose to run a detailed suite of precompliance test using in-house capabilities or a convenient facility. This minimizes the high cost and disruption of the formal test process, as well as risk of failing, having to go back to the bench to find the problem, developing a solution, and then going for a retest. Relatively small passive components are often significant parts of the compliance solution.

Keep in mind that regulatory compliance is not about wireless performance parameters such bit error rate (BER), RF sensitivity, throughput, accuracy, battery life, or dissipation. Instead, it’s entirely about unwanted emissions. There are specialized compliance consultants and experts who can review a design concept, BOM, and final physical implementation, advise on the pre-compliance test cycle, and even help with the actual certification process.

A “Canned” Module/IC Solution Simplifies Wireless Implementation, but Potential Design-in Issues Remain

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A “Canned” Module/IC Solution Simplifies Wireless Implementation, but Potential Design-in Issues Remain

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Graphic illustrating connectivity clouds hovering above a city
Harnessing the power of IoT: Microsoft’s unique approach
June 11, 2017
Little could this now-famous British serial entrepreneur have known in 1999 that the name he chose to define his approach for using RFID in P&G’s supply chain would top Gartner’s 2015 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies report.
Depiction of a city connected via wireless connectivity
How Retailers are Using Location Awareness Technology to Track Buyers’ Habits
April 25, 2017
Location tracking has been in use for a lot longer than one may expect. For example, military Special Forces and intelligence organizations have been using trackers and tracers for decades.
energy harvesting concept with green batteries sprouting from the ground
Powering the Internet of Things via Energy Harvesting
April 25, 2017
The push is on to add Internet capability to everything—often called the Internet of Things (IoT)—and the challenge for design engineers is to figure out how to power each of these IoT nodes.
Clothes hanging on racks in a store
The Internet of Slacks? IoT and Smart Clothing
April 25, 2017
When you think of wearable technology you probably think about those fitness trackers that you wear on your wrist. What you probably don’t think about is your shirt, your pants or even your socks.
IoT icons with a world map background
Insurance and the Internet of Things
April 25, 2017
It’s one of those things you only think about when you need it. Insurance. It’s our safety net for so many important parts of out lives and can sometimes be the key to a quick recovery – both physically and financially.
illustration of clouds with data storage symbols
The Internet of Things Pushes the Possibilities Offered by Big Data
April 24, 2017
The concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) encompasses things as tangible as a light switch, things as ethereal as a cloud, and all things in-between.
man pointing to the word insurance
Risky Business: IoT’s Impact on Insurance
April 23, 2017
Risky Business: IoT’s Impact on Insurance By Steve Gereb August 25, 2016. I enjoy reading about how the data collected by Intelligent Systems will help people live better lives.
woman looking at tablet on airplane
The Internet of Things at Cruising Altitude: Airlines and the IoT
April 20, 2017
What are your thoughts when you step onto an airplane? “Where’s my seat?” “Is this a Wi-Fi flight?” “I hope I make my connection.”
man holding tablet with chart image
Study: Digital Intelligence Driving Massive Business Transformation
April 14, 2017
The Internet of Things (IoT) is widely regarded as the next revolution in technology. Cisco predicts that by 2020, there will be 50 billion things connected to the Internet, generating revenues of $19 trillion.
man holding out his hand with icon overlay
The Internet of Everything is Here…or Is It?
April 11, 2017
The next great age of technology is the Internet of Things (IoT), if, that is, you believe everything you read on the Internet.
Yellow rainboots and gardening tools on flowerbed
The Internet of Things Has Thumbs – And They’re Green
April 10, 2017
It’s no surprise that technology, data and intelligent systems are transforming industrial agriculture.
graphic spelling out internet of things
Microsoft and GE Partnership to Make Industrial IoT More Accessible to Businesses
April 4, 2017
General Electric (GE) and Microsoft Corporation recently announced the beginning of a new alliance. The technology collaboration will make available GE’s Predix platform for Industrial Internet on the Microsoft Azure cloud for industrial businesses
Graphic of a person using IoT for several applications
Going Up? Elevators, Windows 10 And The Internet Of Things
March 30, 2017
People are excited about the Internet of Things for a variety of reasons. It’s already made us more connected. And as more and more things are connected, a number of industries are poised to become faster, more efficient and more reliable.
IoT concept -- smart phone with IoT icons
OCF and Thread Group Alliance Boosts Windows 10 and its Smart Home Initiative
March 29, 2017
Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF) and Thread Group, recently collaborated to fire up the automated ‘smart home’ functionalities on the Windows 10 operating system.
Woman looking at her wearable fitness tracker
From vision to reality: a look at Pebble’s launch into the wearables market
March 26, 2017
When Eric Migicovsky started designing smartwatches six years ago, there were few players in the wearables space and a lot of skeptics.
beer taps in a row
Internet of Beer? Avnet Helps iKeg ‘Tap’ Into the Internet of Things
March 26, 2017
You might think that running out of beer is only a major concern if you are the “refreshment coordinator” for a college fraternity, but it turns out that beer inventory management is actually a pretty big deal for bar and restaurant owners these
Depiction of IoT for various modes of transportation
How the IoT will Change the Supply Chain?
March 24, 2017
The potential applications of Internet of Things (IoT) technology across any industry or sector are vast. Existing and future IoT applications promise new ways of value creation and revenue streams for businesses in a digital world.
cyber security chip on circuit board
IoT Proliferation Teeters on the Edge
By Alex Iuorio   -   March 24, 2017
Cybersecurity and the irony of what happened during U.S. President Barack Obama's January 12, 2015 speech to the Federal Trade Commission on the growing threat, during which he declared: “If we’re’re going to be connected, we’ve got to be pro
Robotic machinery building a car in a factory
Ensuring robust connectivity in the industrial Internet of Things
March 23, 2017
The industrial Internet of Things promises to bring greater visibility and control of manufacturing processes.
Pigeons perched on the side of a building
London’s Pigeon Population Flocks to IoT
March 21, 2017
In one of the strangest, most innovative uses of Intelligent Systems we’ve seen so far, DigitasLbi Creative Director Pierre Dequesnoy came up with the idea of using pigeons equipped with sensor-loaded backpacks to analyze pollution in the UK’s ca
cloud servers
Securing LED Networks in the Age of the Internet of Things
March 20, 2017
Recently, in Nuevo Arenal, a little sleepy village in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica, a dozen criminals cut the lights to the town’s main street during the quiet 3 a.m. hour, and then injured...
3D cityscape with IoT icons
Invest in the Future with IoT
March 20, 2017
You and I have known for a long time that connected devices are becoming pervasive throughout society, and it seems like the investment world is finally catching up.
diagram of smartphone and connected devices
IoT Security: Real Problems and Solutions
By Guillaume Crinon   -   March 18, 2017
Learn about the real issues behind “IoT security,” and challenges for customers both from hardware and embedded / server software aspects.
America flag with WIFI icon
It’s Time For The Government And The Internet Of Things
March 18, 2017
The Internet of Things or IoT has become quite the well-known term in the past year or two. What started out as a radical concept – connecting everything to everything else and to the Internet!
low power concept alphabetical chart
Internet of Things: Low Power, Low Cost Connected Devices Fuel Demand for Microco
March 17, 2017
At the heart of the devices that make up the Internet of Things (IoT) are a variety of ultra low power microcontrollers (MCUs), sensor networks, systems-on-chip (SoC) and communications protocols such as ZigBee. These underlying technologies operate
Front view of a man pointing his index finger and a gear icon
One-Click Manufacturing: Could It Really Be That Easy?
March 16, 2017
One click manufacturing (OCM) is a concept that arose from the 3D printing world: design a 3D model of a part ...
Graphic of cloud computing hovering over a tablet
Finding the best wireless option for your IoT design
March 16, 2017
The Internet of Things (IoT) relies on a facile communications framework able to move data easily between embedded "things" and systems located at higher levels of the IoT hierarchy.
digital image of the continents
The Edge to Enterprise - Avnet and IBM Partner to Deliver IoT Offering
March 13, 2017
This white paper examines the Internet of Things market with a lens on the complexity of the vendor ecosystem and how partnerships are enabling holistic solutions to come to market.
nurse checking person wearing health monitoring system on wrist
Internet of Things: Designing Sensor-Based Devices with Coin Cell Batteries
March 13, 2017
A popular vision of the Internet of Things (IoT) is that it will comprise billions of sensors gathering information about their local environment and transmitting that data back to servers in the cloud. Such data will be compiled, analyzed and shared
conceptual image of hand with legs and city background
Smart Cities: What To Look For In 2016 And Beyond
March 11, 2017
In a recent article in Government Technology, IDC research director Ruthbea Yesner Clarke discusses three trends emerging around the growing smart cities movement
hand holding smart phone with IoT icons emanating from the phone
Indispensable Building Blocks of Mobile IoT Devices
March 10, 2017
The concept of IoT connected devices connotes many different ideas. Some think of data centers full of servers, network switches and storage arrays aggregating untold gigabytes of random data. Others identify with Ethernet-enabled devices in their pl
bee polinating a puple flower field
What’s All The Buzz About? Bees And Smart Map Technology
March 8, 2017
You’ve heard about the problems with the bees, right? Their population numbers are dwindling and that’s not good news.
person wearing smart watch, working on laptop and  holding smart phone
Will HaLow open the door for more intelligent systems?
March 7, 2017
Reporting on the recent announcement of the “long-awaited Wi-Fi HaLow standard for products incorporating IEEE 802.11ah wireless networking technology,” Jim Hunter of Tech Crunch explains why this new standard may pave the way for more connected
conceptual graphic of IoT icons around a blue globe
An Introduction to IoT Components
March 7, 2017
From locomotives and jet engines to baby monitors and home appliance controls, new applications are challenging the imaginations of designers — both in startup companies and within giant corporations.
Graphic depicting the Internet of Things
For industry 4.0, reliability builds on robust connections
March 6, 2017
Looking to relieve increasing product complexity and cost pressures, manufacturers are moving toward the next phase of industrial automation envisioned in Industry 4.0.
business man standing on small rowboat in the ocean
What To Do With All That Data
March 6, 2017
Just as important as the hardware and the data it collects in an Intelligent System are the tools we need to process and analyze information. Otherwise, an Intelligent System does nothing to serve our purposes.
Binary code
Driving data with unintentional new uses: Internet of Things
March 3, 2017
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a natural evolution of the things we already make today.
Graphic depicting a human head with IOT written of to the side
Cognitive computing and IBM Watson IoT: unlocking the power of information
March 3, 2017
Businesses, academic institutions, cities, and other enterprises may have diverse objectives and missions but all have two things in common: Data, lots of it.
Graphic depicting cyber security
Circuit Protection: Helping Drive Reliability and Longer Life
March 3, 2017
The primary concerns of engineers designing mobile devices connected to the IoT remain device functionality, performance and feature set.
A person using their cell phone to connect to several mobile apps
Avnet: your key enabler for efficient IoT product development
March 3, 2017
There’s no shortage of hype when it comes to IoT! Fashion designers, futurists, gadget geeks, salespeople...
Depiction of a digitally connected city
Antennas for RF Designs in the IoT
March 3, 2017
The physical connection for many IoT nodes leverages legacy wired networks found in homes, offices, schools, factories and other areas. As we become mobile, wireless physical connections are becoming the norm.
A city at dusk
10 companies and municipalities that are harnessing the Internet of Things to run smarter cities
March 2, 2017
Many of the devices we interact with today are enabled by computers and connected to the Internet. Much of the popular interest in the Internet of Things (IoT) focuses on consumer electronics, with everything from smart refrigerators to thermostats,
A graphic reading
10 things every intelligent systems needs
March 1, 2017
The Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the way businesses use technology. This web of interconnected devices and machines gathers information from gas-oil-water exploration sensors to sensors in corn fields, to medical devices and train control

A “Canned” Module/IC Solution Simplifies Wireless Implementation, but Potential Design-in Issues Remain

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