One of the major challenges with a radio design is the number of different protocols that might have to be supported. For many consumer, industrial and automotive designs the emphasis will be on the provision of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support. While handling the decoding and high-level protocols can be tough, serious trade-offs need to be made to support the potentially wide range of different technologies currently available and those needed for the future.
Such trade-offs will impact the complexity of the design and therefore the size, cost and power of the end equipment. In particular, this is a key challenge in machine-to-machine designs and the Internet of Things. For these applications there is a need to be able to deploy devices that support a wide range of protocols in any area of the world but also ensure they maintain a low power budget and a low BOM cost.
A multiradio front end that provides, for example, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth transceivers in a single module has been a significant desire for many radio system designers. Using a module-based approach to a radio implementation makes it even easier for developers to integrate a flexible front end into their equipment that can operate in many different environments.
This applies whether the end application is telematics, usage-based insurance, manufacturing, connected cities, healthcare, asset management, building and home automation, security systems or smart energy. But these often need different protocols or different frequencies, and maintaining multiple versions of a product for markets around the world is expensive for the end customer.
Instead, a multiradio module can bring a number of key advantages. Integrating several radios with a common antenna interface can cut the number of components, increasing the reliability and reducing the cost. This can also be an opportunity to bring in other components such as low noise amplifiers (LNAs) and have all the noise-sensitive components in an isolated and protected module. This simplifies the design and testing of the rest of the system and improves the overall reliability.
In this case, a module can actually reduce size, implementation cost and final product cost, as the module designers are experts at optimizing the design and minimizing the component count. Multiradio modules also have high volumes across many different markets, bringing economies of scale to drive down the price that isn’t possible for a discrete design in one application area.
But the designers of these modules really understand the interaction of different radio technologies, and know how to optimise the placement of the different antennas to minimise interference. This co-location of antennas can be a major headache to designers doing it on their own.
This is even more important when there are several radios operating at the same time. It is not unusual to have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi operating at the same time connecting to a sensor and to a gateway at 2.4GHz, and understanding how these interact in this band is essential.
But there are other advantages that save the system developer time and money. These modules can be type approved by various radio regulators, and can go a long way to reducing the certification of the final product for situations where pre-certification is not possible such as Europe’s CE mark.
As an example, the u-blox ODIN-W262 is a 14.8 x 22.3 x 4.5 mm module that supports multiple, concurrent 802.11 Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz), Bluetooth V4.0 (Classic and Bluetooth Low Energy) links that can be configured easily for individual applications. It is type approved in countries throughout the world, with a built-in antenna and makes adding multi-protocol wireless connectivity to any product as quick and easy as possible.