Evan Jones, Sierra Wireless
embedded.com (November 11, 2013)
When embedded designers take advantage of the often-overlooked processing power within a wireless module they can typically eliminate the system microcontroller, thus creating a cellular-enabled system that is smaller, more efficient, and much cheaper to produce. Following are guidelines for choosing a module that can act as both microcontroller and modem.
When adding cellular connectivity to an embedded system, many designers choose a wireless module because they are pre-integrated components and perform cellular communications with minimum configuration. Pre-certified for use with mobile networks, they’re ready for worldwide deployment. The developer interacts with the module using serial interfaces and doesn’t have to be concerned with complex aspects of cellular modem transceiver design.
More often than not, designers use a wireless module in combination with a standard microcontroller, usually the two highest-cost items in the bill of materials. The microcontroller manages the application and interacts with peripherals while the module mainly takes care of cellular communications.
However, many wireless modules are capable of doing much more than managing cellular communications since they typically use an integrated chipset that includes a 32-bit ARM microcontroller. Accessing this processing power, designers can use the module to manage the entire application. The module can behave as the central processor and modem, eliminating the need for a standalone microcontroller. The resulting system is more compact and uses less power, with a noticeably lower material cost.
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