With the ink scarcely dried on the agreement to form the LoRa Alliance for promoting a new long range wireless M2M communications standard, one of its founding members, Microchip Technology, is ready with samples of a ready-to-deploy, precertified sensor node module. Volume quantities will be available in May.
LoRa is a low-data-rate wireless networking standard developed initially by Semtech Corp. to make possible Internet of Things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M) wireless communication with a range of more than 10 miles (suburban), a battery life of greater than 10 years, and the ability to connect millions of wireless sensor nodes to gateways. In addition to Microchip, charter members of the LoRa Alliance include Cisco, Eolane, IBM, Kerlink, IMST, MultiTech, Sagemcom, and Semtech.
According to Tyler Smith, marketing manager of Microchip's Wireless Products Division, other than Semtech with its SX127X family of integrated circuits, Microchip is one of the first companies to be ready with a LoRa product: the RN2483. It is a coin-cell sized, 17.8 x 26.3 millimeter module designed for applications using the European R&TTE Directive Assessed Radio-specified 433/868 MHz wireless spectrum, a license-free Industry Scientific and Medical (ISM) frequency band.
“The key to our ability to get out with a LoRa design so quickly is that we took advantage of a stack-on-board wireless module strategy we initiated several years ago to get our 8-, 16-, and 32-bit MCUs into a variety of newly emerging wireless markets,” Smith said in an interview with EE Times. This modular approach has been used in various wireless segments such as 802.11 Wi-Fi, 2.4 GHz IEEE 802.15.4, the sub-GHz spectrum, and Bluetooth.
LoRa has a lot in common the various earlier wireless market segments Microchip has targeted. “First of all, most wireless and embedded Internet of Things designs have to fit into extremely small physical dimensions using customized, oddly shaped, and small printed circuit board configurations,” Smith said.
Second, though the opportunities for companies are large, there are not enough engineers who understand the complexities of RF design to go around. A module approach slices through those complexities Third, there are all the governmental constraints and approvals that any RF-based design must go through before a wireless based device can get to market. “We take on those burdens in our module approach.”
Finally, said Smith, there are the widely varying levels of expertise of companies and developers who want to build wireless M2M and IoT designs. These range from embedded systems designers who have detailed knowledge of embedded design to those with little or none. What both have in common is the desire to get their designs out to their end markets as soon as is possible. “Aware of that, we often also include all of the necessary protocol stacks and firmware pre-installed. And to reduce the time to market from initial design we take all of our wireless modules through the various certification processes.”
Like its predecessors, the RN2843 wireless module for LoRa has also been pre-certified, in this case for operation under the European R&TTE Directive Assessed Radio specification. And despite its small size it has sufficient pinout to support 14 GPIOs, enough to connect and control a large number of sensors and actuators while taking up very little space.
The surface mountable RN2483 module comes with the LoRaWAN protocol stack, so it can be easily connected with the emerging LoRa infrastructure—including both privately managed local area networks (LANs) and telecom-operated public networks—to create Low Power Wide Area Networks (LPWANs) with nationwide coverage. “This protocol stack integration approach, as with our earlier wireless modules, also makes it possible for it to be used with any microcontroller that has a UART interface, including our own MCUs,” said Smith.
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