Low cost is a “given”; TI instead focuses on the “simple, stupid” part of the connected IoT. New Internet-on-a-chip Wi-Fi ICs.
By: Chris A. Ciufo
Hey, this IoT thing has got me really stoked. As a long-time geek, I’ve been hard-wiring automated stuff since I was a kid. Surrounded by my app-enabled Xfinity CATV and my AirPlay-connected home theater, I’m anxious to add some door cams, a remote controlled overhead garage door, basement temperature and flood sensors, and…so much more!
But if every embedded sensor, doodad, HVAC and industrial machine on the planet is to be connected to the Internet—which is the goal of the Internet of Things/Everything (IoT)—the ICs to connect them have got to be cheap. As in a couple of bucks per connection in high volume.
But more importantly, it’s got to be easy for non-RF designers to add Wi-Fi into their products. Can you imagine if every 110VAC replacement plug from Home Depot had built-in Wi-Fi? I’d pay $5-10 for one of those. How about a light switch? Ceiling fan? The office shredder? The burbling Zen water feature on the receptionist’s desk?
Most of these embedded “wannabe nodes” were created by engineers who’ve never before designed with Wi-Fi. Nor do they understand the hundreds of APIs needed for the most basic TCP/IP connection.
Or: how likely is it that designers have experience with IoT security requiring lock down to protect factory automation or your nanny cam? Forget it; Wi-Fi’s 3AES and the Internet’s TLS/SSL security is more complicated than the whole device itself!
TI is embedding new “Internet on-a-Chip” Wi-Fi ICs with the KISS principle: keep it simple, stupid. But price matters, too.
TI’s SimpleLink is “Internet on a Chip”
Available “with” (CC3200) or “without” (CC3100) an embedded ARM Cortex A4 MCU to run apps like email, SMS or a web server, TI’s new all-in-one SimpleLink Wi-Fi ICs make easy for designers all that complicated Wi-Fi and Internet stuff. They’re easy on price so the “cheap” part is covered. The CC3100 is $6.70 @ 1KU; the CC3200 is about $8.00 for 1,000.
Texas Instruments’ new SimpleLink “Internet on-a-Chip” Wi-Fi devices. The CC3200 includes an application processor that can run email, SMS, a web server, and more. (Courtesy: TI.)
Keeping in mind “KISS”, according to Dana Myers, Channel Marketing and Product Manager for TI’s Wireless Connectivity Group, the company recognizes how difficult Wi-Fi can be to design into a system. If the IoT is ever to find its way into the all-around-us devices mentioned above, the design-in process must be easy.
The Internet of Things/Everything (IoT) is growing to add connectivity into all kinds of embedded devices. Each will become a connected “node”…only if it can be connected to the Internet. (Courtesy: TI).
According to Myers, “TI has done the hard work for designers.” For example, a mere one API is needed to handle Internet security protocols (versus “hundreds” if hand coded). Further examples of how TI has dramatically simplified things are shown in below.
SimpleLink devices emphasize the KISS principle: “keep it simple, stupid”. Adding Wi-Fi to an embedded device has never been simpler. (Courtesy: TI.)
Better than IEEE 802.15.4 and BLE
If Wi-Fi is to be the “last mile” of cloud connectedness to the IoT’s billions of devices, it will have to displace other wireless technologies. The collection of IEEE 802.15.4 “personal” network standards that include ZigBee and 6LoWPAN—plus the newer Bluetooth Low Energy standard (BLE)—are not competition for Wi-Fi.
“The reason,” said TI’s Myers, “is that Wi-Fi is already installed in most locations where the devices are.” And the 802.15.4 and BLE standards are reserved for “personal range” lower rate connectivity than Wi-Fi. And while most IoT sensors will wake from sleep and broadcast only small burst packets (in other words: not much M2M data), some IoT devices may consume loads of bandwidth. Wi-Fi’s advantage then is that it is low cost, ubiquitous, has long range, and is a fat pipe.
Yet Wi-Fi’s Achilles Heel has been its power consumption. Just look at your 4-hour connected laptop to convince yourself of how much power connectivity can burn.
One Year on Two “AA” Batteries
Besides making Wi-Fi cheap and easy, TI will make it long-lasting, too. The company states the intention of “bringing Wi-Fi power to a new low” with a year’s worth of connectivity on just two AA alkaline batteries.
The “always connected” use case (left, Figure below) shows 125 μA sleep current while still connected to the network. This is possible for up to 2 seconds at a time between Wi-Fi beacons (20x better), versus the typical 100 ms sleep period. While awake, the CC3100 Internet on-a-Chip burns a mere 37 mA awaiting Rx beacon reception.
Boasting a year’s worth of battery life on two alkaline AA batteries, the CC3100 and CC3200 employ some slick power conservation modes. Note: in the left-hand figure, the sleep current is 125 uA (not 120 uA) according to a TI spokeswoman. (Courtesy: TI.)
In true M2M sensor mode, an “intermittently connected” node will burn just 4 μA in hibernation, requiring only 95 ms to wake up and establish a secure Wi-Fi connection. Add another 105 ms onto that and the network processor IC has established a secure TLS connection to the Internet.
All of these numbers—power consumption, sleep and hibernation current, and time to establish cloud connectivity—are impressive.
An Entire Ecosystem of SDKs, HDKs, Apps
Since the goal with these new devices is simplicity for designers, TI is making available both Launchpad (base cards with MCUs) and BoosterPack (mezzanine cards with I/O), plus over 30 sample applications. Apps range from email and SMS, to an integrated web server. Other applications are possible.
TI has also partnered with cloud aggregators like Exosite, IBM, Xively and others. This assures “big data” remote manageability of M2M notes and communication with the CC3100 and CC3200 ICs. When asked if TI plans on releasing its own MQTT protocol and cloud dashboard, the TI spokeswoman merely replied “no plans, right now”.
But at the rate TI’s going by pushing down the barriers to Wi-Fi connectivity—in price, simplicity, ease-of-use, and security—it’s only a matter of time before the company adds more SimpleLink goodies.
They’re really following the “KISS” principle.