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IoT apps get boost from Bluetooth SIP modules

Posted: 06 Mar 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:SIP  Bluetooth Smart  IoT  Zigbee 

Things are looking good for the Bluetooth Smart market, which is why the Internet of Things (IoT) designers must focus their efforts on adding value while being cautious of wasteful endeavours.

The latest crop of tiny, highly integrated, low-power Bluetooth Smart Modules from a range of suppliers is being applied in revolutionary IoT designs, including wearable electronics apps. This new generation of System-In-Package (SIP) modules is enabling a broad range of miniaturised electronics that can help people live better lives.

Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)

Without entering into an all-encompassing discussion, let's briefly summarise this technology's key factors. Appearing in 1994, this communications protocol was driven by the now 19,000-member Bluetooth SIG (special interest group). The first low-energy version was adopted in 2010, thereby opening the door to important new possibilities for connected devices.

The key attribute of ultra-low-power systems is that they enable connectivity of power-sensitive devices operating on primary cells—typically alkaline or coin cells—for long periods of time that can range from months to (potentially) several years. In the case of the wireless sub-systems, one cannot look at peak RX or TX currents to assess overall power consumption since time spent in low-power "sleep" modes dominates overall power consumption.

BLE power consumption

High-level view of BLE power consumption.

Power consumption

A more detailed view of power consumption throughout a connection event.

All communication in low-energy mode occurs over the Generic Attribute Profile (GATT) for sending and receiving short pieces of data over a BLE link. The GATT architecture makes it easy to both create and implement new profiles.

The Bluetooth SIG defines many profiles for low-energy devices to operate in a particular application. Furthermore, a device can implement more than one profile; for example, a device might contain a glucose monitor as well as a battery-level detector.

During the past five years, the Bluetooth SIG improved Bluetooth Smart capabilities to enable more IoT applications to operate with additional features. These include the following:

  • Multi-role capabilities on the same Bluetooth Smart chip makes it possible for a sport bracelet to communicate as a slave with a mobile phone and as a master with a heart rate monitor, for example.
  • The latest V4.2 version allows "things" to connect to the Internet or to communicate directly with other "things" using native IP via Bluetooth Smart-enabled headless routers.
  • This last version also includes higher data packet size (to increase speed) and security fixtures (to improve privacy).

Potential product application sectors

For the vast majority of applications where connectivity to a phone or a laptop is involved, the built-in advantages of Bluetooth Smart are overwhelming versus various alternative technologies on the market, such as Zigbee or ANT; for example:

  • The Bluetooth protocol is now mature, widely understood and widely used.
  • Bluetooth Smart is natively "adapted" for low-energy use-cases.
  • BLE connectivity exists in nearly every phone, tablet and laptop released today, which means application designs require new hardware at only one end.
  • Software for smartphones, tablets and laptops is easily distributable via app stores.

It's no surprise to learn that miniaturised electronic apps using Bluetooth Smart technology are exploding across a wide range of markets, limited only by human imagination. Based on chipmakers that include Cambridge Silicon Radio, Dialogue Semiconductor, Nordic Semiconductor, STMicroelectronics and Texas Instruments, many module manufacturers are proposing standard SMT assembly that integrates the Bluetooth Smart SoC with the RF antenna and miscellaneous passive components to create a Bluetooth Smart node, offering a first stage of integration with average package dimensions of 10mm x 20mm x 2.5mm.

Ultimate module integration is only accessible using System-In-Package (SIP) technology, which can reduce the module size to around 10mm x 10mm x 1mm, which equates to a fifth of the volume. Based on tiny smart devices from companies like Broadcom, Insight SiP, Lapis, and Murata, engineers are creating products for applications that could only be dreamed of a few short years ago. Some of these exciting new applications include the following:

  • Connected sensors for medical devices, healthcare, sport, fitness, industrial devices...
  • Internet of Things (IoT) applications
  • Wearable technology, bracelet, watches...
  • Smartphone, tablet and laptop accessories
  • Home automation
  • Beacons
  • Determining indoor location to a reasonable level of accuracy
  • Wireless charging
  • LED lighting
  • Toys
  • Etc.

IoT devices

The keys to realising all of these amazing new products are dramatically lower size, cost, complexity and development time. Some new end-user products are being independently developed by one- or two-person design teams at modest investment costs and in only a few months. As we will discuss, the newest system-in-package (SIP) shrinks and simplifies previously formidable development and commercialisation factors.

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