OSLO – Nordic Semiconductor ASA announced the first members of a new family of 2.4 GHz RF chips that take a fresh approach to supporting multiple protocols. The nRF51 series separates protocol and application software stacks, letting developers write apps code on embedded ARM Cortex-M0 cores rather than require software frameworks specific to the chip vendor.
Nordic claims the approach will shorten time-to-market by easing the job of writing software. It also claims the components slash power consumption as much as 50 percent, provide a ten-fold boost in processing performance and a 9.5 dB increase in RF link budget compared to Nordic’s previous parts.
The use of the Cortex-M0 core is a big step up for Nordic which traditionally used 8051-compatible controllers, said Will Strauss, principal of market watcher Forward Concepts (Tempe, Ariz.).
The first two chips in the family are the nRF51822 supporting Bluetooth Low Energy or proprietary protocols and the nRF51422 for the ANT protocol. The hardware for the two chips is identical and includes 256 kilobytes flash and 16 kbytes RAM in a 6mm2 48-pin QFN package.
Nordic will deliver Bluetooth and ANT protocol stacks as a pre-compiled binary or pre-programmed on the devices. The software runs in an asynchronous and event driven manner and includes APIs to the application layer, the company said.
In addition, protocol stacks and application code have no link-time dependencies and can be compiled and updated separately, Nordic said. A custom two-region memory protection unit helps enforce the separation of protocol and apps code. The separation ensures any application layer bugs will not affect the protocol software, the company added.
The nRF51822 comes with a Bluetooth low energy stack including profiles, services, and example applications provided as a downloadable, royalty-free, pre-compiled binary. It requires less than 128 kilobytes of code space and 6 kilobytes of RAM.
The chip also comes with an updated version of Nordic’s Gazell protocol stack. The software is backward compatible with Gazell applications on its existing nRF24L chips and cuts power consumption by 30 percent.
The nRF51422 includes software implementing the ANT protocol stack, ANT+ profiles and example applications. It supports up to eight concurrent ANT channels and requires less than 32 kilobytes of code space and 2 kilobytes of RAM.
Nordic was early to adopt the ANT protocol which enables even lower power consumption levels than Bluetooth Low Energy, said Strauss.
The chips are aimed at a wide range of PC peripherals, connected TV remote controls, toys, automated controls and sports, fitness and health care sensors. They are compatible with Nordic's existing nRF24L series
The new series is in limited sampling now with general availability in early September. Volume production is expected before the end of the year.
Hi Rick, I was a bit quick to jump to conclusions, apparently they are not currently working on the IPv6 profile. It does seem to be quite a lot of interest for it out there, so I hope they get around to it soon ;)
It's all about perspective. Looking at the G2 solution the TX power @ 0dBm seems to be 120-135 mA. At 10.5 mA in TX the Nordic solution is an order of magnitude smaller ;)
I wouldn't be surprised if the average current is a hundred times smaller.
Personally I am excited about the improvements made by the WiFi module guys. WiFi offers much higher data rates and is currently more established than BT 4.0, but I think it's going to be a while until we will see coin cell powered WiFi nodes. As a rule of thumb anything over 20 mA is a no go for coin cells like the CR2032.
I can tell you that even the most optimized WiFi solutions use way more power, and cost way more, than BTLE. Nordic BTLE is a much better choice for low cost, coin cell powered sensors and peripherals, and with an IPv6 profile being worked on for BTLE you should be able to connect BTLE sensors to the internet fairly easily.
As for who is going to do this next I won't speculate ;)
Who will be next to merge BTLE and ARM cores in an SoC for this emerging Internet of Things market?
How will Nordic's parts and chose protocols vie with similar efforts from companies pushing Wi-Fi into lower power and cost markets?
The quick answer is that the M0 does everything much quicker than the 8051, while consuming about the same power in active mode (4-5mA at 16 MHz). This means it can stay more often in low power sleep modes, rather than having to run the MCU for a long time to do data processing. Added to that the code size is smaller with the M0 (I believe Arm claim about 30% compared to the 8051), because the 16/32 bit M0 instructions are more efficient than the 8/16/24 bit instructions used by the 8051.
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