LONDON — After three years in development by teams in Finland and Norway, Nordic Semiconductor introduced a system-in-package (SiP) module for low-power Internet of Things (IoT) applications.
Nordic's nRF91 integrates an LTE cellular model with narrow-band IoT (NB-IoT) connectivity in a 10x16x1.2mm package. It also incorporates a transceiver, RF front end, dedicated application processor, flash memory, power management and crystal and passive components.
After announcing last month that lead customers were already sampling the nRF91, Nordic revealed details of the device at an event in Oslo last week. During the event, Nordic also demonstrated the nRF91 operating on the Verizon Wireless Network in the U.S. and on the Telia network in Norway.
The nRF91 SiP is aimed at secure, low power, cellular connected IoT systems. Jointly developed by Nordic’s specially assembled cellular design team in Finland, and low power team in Norway, the chip was developed from scratch to optimize the power, cost and size savings enabled by the new LTE-M and NB-IoT cellular standards.
Nordic says the custom SoC combines the benefits of traditional cellular modules — including tele-regulatory and cellular certifications — with ease-of-use and the smallest form factor ever seen in the cellular industry to date. According to the company, the module has up to three times smaller footprint than other solutions on the market and a lower external bill of materials (BoM).
The module features 23 dBm output power and a -108dBm sensitivity receiver in the 700MHz-2.2GHz range. It also has a throughput of up to 360kbps with LTE-M and 60kbps for NB-IoT.
Nordic said it worked with Qorvo as a strategic partner for both the RF front end and the SiP development and manufacturing. The nRF91 Series supports global operation with a single SiP variant is a result of the combination of Nordic’s multimode LTE-M / NB-IoT modem, SAW-less transceiver and a custom RF front-end solution from Qorvo.
With security becoming increasingly a critical consideration in IoT systems, the company says it needed to have a processor with a built-in security platform.
"Security is the main reason we went for the Arm Cortex-M33 processor and Arm CryptoCell-310 security IP," said Peder Rand, product manager for cellular IoT at Nordic, in an interview with EE Times. "Its architecture brings the TrustZone technology to the embedded space."
This integration enabled an entire low power cellular IoT application to be implemented on an nRF91 SiP. The built-in host processor features TrustZone for Armv8-M, helping secure application data, firmware, and peripherals using an isolated, trusted execution environment across the CPU and system.
The SiP also features built-in support for positioning via an integrated assisted GPS (A-GPS) solution that combines cellular and GPS technology to deliver fast and accurate positioning.
Rand said key target areas initially for the device are in asset tracking, predictive maintenance and healthcare. He said people want to know where their "things" are and in what condition they are in. In healthcare, Nordic is aiming for the professional monitoring of patients’ vital signs in their own homes.
Rand said that in these applications, small physical size, low power, reliable connectivity and security are essential. The company expects general sampling in the middle of this year and volume production by the end of 2018 with lead customers.
Nordic says Telia and Verizon are key network partners. Rand said that while Nordic’s business model is to sell electronic components to OEMs and ODMs, these customers need a carrier that enable them to deliver IoT connected products.
Telia says it is experiencing an unprecedented demand for dedicated IoT connectivity represented by LTE-M and NB-IoT. These technologies enable products and services that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. In Nordic’s press release, it added that access to components has so far been scarce and has hindered large scale commercial launches.
— Nitin Dahad is a European correspondent for EE Times.