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Linley Newsletter

New Wireless MCUs Bolster IoT

May 8, 2018

Author: Tom R. Halfhill

Bluetooth Low Energy is rapidly gaining popularity in IoT devices. In response, microcontroller vendors are introducing more chips with BLE radios, eliminating a separate transceiver chip. They’re also adding radios for the Thread and Zigbee standards, which use the same unlicensed 2.4GHz band as BLE. In addition, the latest products have faster CPUs, more on-chip memory, and stronger security. More like SoCs than MCUs, they’ll soon replace less efficient multichip designs. In particular, they help IoT designers reduce their system cost while making smaller devices that can run longer on battery power.

ST’s new wireless MCUs introduce the STM32WB-series, comprising three basic models. Each has a Cortex-M4F CPU to run the customer’s application software and a Cortex-M0+ to offload the wireless-protocol stacks. Their radios implement BLE5, Thread, and Zigbee, plus IEEE 802.15.4 for proprietary protocols. They’re sampling now to early customers and are scheduled for volume production in 2H18.

TI’s newest wireless MCUs expand the SimpleLink family with four basic models, each implementing some combination of BLE5, Thread, Zigbee, 802.15.4, and sub-gigahertz radio. Each has a Cortex-M4F CPU for customer code, a Cortex-M0 for the wireless stack, and a proprietary sensor controller. Uniquely, they squeeze an RTOS kernel and low-level protocol stacks into ROM. Sampling now, the new SimpleLink CC26x2R and CC13x2R are scheduled for volume production in 1Q19.

NXP’s K32W0x chips are the newest wireless MCUs in the Kinetis family. Much like the others, they include Cortex-M4F and Cortex-M0+ cores. The integrated radios implement BLE5, Zigbee, Thread, and 802.15.4. Also sampling now, the K32W0x MCUs are scheduled for volume production in late 3Q18.

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