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Miniaturizing IoT Designs

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This whitepaper explores the challenges that come with designing connected devices into increasingly smaller products, specifically antenna integration, and how system-inpackage modules can help.


The Size Challenge

As we wirelessly connect more and more devices to the Internet, electronics engineers face several challenges, including how to package a radio transmitter into their existing device real estate and how to make increasingly smaller devices. They’re also striving to meet consumer demand for Internet of Things (IoT) products that are ergonomically easy to use and unobtrusive to the environment.

Size expectation is one of the most frequently asked questions when considering IoT devices, along with radio performance and price. Ideally, engineers would like to use IoT components that are as small as possible, have great RF performance, and are affordable. These characteristics do not typically converge in IoT component offerings, and that presents a challenge for solution providers.

Fortunately, the size of a silicon die has been getting smaller and smaller over the years as the industry adopts new silicon manufacturing processes. The industry has been solving the space issue for IoT implementations by combining the MCU and RF front end into system-on-chip (SoC) configurations (i.e., making wireless MCUs available.) However, the trend toward SoCs has not solved the physics of the RF transmitter — the antenna. Antenna design is often left for a customer to sort out, or they may be guided to choose ready-to-use wireless modules with an integrated antenna. The space required for an antenna is a challenge that comes with designing small IoT devices. It needs to be efficient while also enabling reliable wireless connections. For this reason, the focus of this whitepaper is highlighting the specific concerns around antenna integration.


Why an SoC?

When the first IoT boom started to blossom during the 2000s, the industry was called machine-to-machine (M2M), and the components offered for IoT connectivity were mainly GPRS modems, Bluetooth® serial cable replacement, or Sub-G proprietary radios. These designs had two main components for connectivity: the MCU and the radio modem. And the required space for basic IoT functionality was typically at its smallest — 50mm on each dimension — meaning the devices where about the size of a mobile phone.

When the silicon industry moved to processes where the required MCU and RF functionality could be packaged into the same die space, new possibilities for developers began to emerge. Now they could implement the functionality of an IoT device in same IC/SoC. The IoT component architectures shifted to wireless MCUs due the obvious benefits — engineers could design IoT devices with a single component and save significant space, but they could also save money because of the lower component costs. When selecting the architecture for modern IoT devices, it’s obvious the SoC-based systems will lead the way thanks to their size advantage.


Download and read the complete white paper here.