A client recently approached the Glyn team with the following question: “Should I use a low power MCU or can my application benefit from a BLE connection and, if so, what is the additional cost?” Glyn’s ANZ Technical Solutions Manager, Dean Sarelius, shares his thoughts on how a cheap as chips wireless Bluetooth connection could enhance your next application design…
With ever increasing levels of integration, it may surprise you to know that it is now possible to purchase an MCU combined with a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) radio for about the same cost as a 32-bit MCU. As the manufacturers of BLE solutions seek to increase performance and power efficiencies, the Cortex-M series has become the de facto core for a wide range of embedded products and solutions.

By adding a BLE link, designers can take advantage of Android and IOS tools to help provide secure pairing, wireless remote configuration and application updating — or to encrypt and send data to the cloud.

Based on the 32-bit ARM® Cortex™-M4F CPU with 1MB flash and 256kB RAM and running at 64MHz, the new Nordic nRF52840 SoC provides the speed to carry out increasingly complex tasks in the shortest possible time and then returns to sleep, conserving precious battery power. The embedded 2.4GHz transceiver supports Bluetooth® low energy (Bluetooth 5), 802.15.4, ANT and proprietary 2.4GHz protocols. What’s more, it’s also on-air compatible with existing nRF52 Series, nRF51 Series and nRF24 Series products from Nordic Semiconductor.

Bluetooth Smart superseded

To get a Bluetooth device to market, a range of qualifications and approvals must be met to prove that the product meets wireless standards. This qualification involves both testing and paperwork, which can be relatively complex and costly for those unfamiliar with the process. Approvals under wireless and tele regulatory standards cannot be obtained on ICs alone; they can only be acquired for complete products or sub-systems/modules.

Today, many of the world’s best-known module manufacturers offer modules based on Nordic Bluetooth low energy (previously called Bluetooth Smart) technology. These modules are available with the necessary external circuitry and are either partly, or fully, qualified (with/without integrated antenna) towards relevant wireless standards.

These modules are based on System-on-Chip (SoC) ICs from Nordic Semiconductor’s nRF51 Series or nRF52 Series. Just like on the SoC ICs, these modules offer you code space for your application as well as access to the ARM® Cortex™ M0 or M4 processor and peripherals. By using these modules, you can leverage all the strengths of Nordic’s SoC Hardware and Software architecture and make a ‘single module product’ without the need for an additional microcontroller to run your application.

Through an agreement with Segger, Nordic is providing the Segger Embedded Studio IDE for free for Nordic SDK users. Embedded Studio is the powerful C/C++ IDE for ARM-based microcontrollers and provides a complete all-in-one solution for managing, building, testing and deploying embedded applications. Examples are available that enable customers to start development with working code right out of the box.

Raytac, a leading module manufacturer based in Taiwan, is now sampling their latest MDBT50Q series modules. Available with PCB or chip antenna and based on the latest nRF52840 SoC from Nordic, the MDBT50Q is available in volume for less than US$5 per module.
At this price level, maybe it’s time to consider the benefits a wireless connection could offer to enhance your next application…?

ASK DEAN: Do you have a tech problem and need to pick Dean’s brains to get some inspiration and support? Please email Glyn Ltd’s ANZ Technical Solutions Manager, Dean Sarelius, at dean@glyn.com.au and he’ll do his best to help you out…