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ESC Chicago: Microchip debuts embedded Wi-Fi and sub-GHz transceivers

Chicago, IL – Advancing its strategy to be a major player in the “wireless connectivity of things,” Microchip used ESC Chicagoto announce an embedded Wi-Fi transceiver module and an ultra-low-power transceiver module for 868, 915 and 950 MHz networks.

The Wi-Fi module is the first announcement in that area since the company bought low-power Wi-Fi startup ZeroG back in January and is essentially a suite of enhancements to already available modules, primarily focused on ease of use and a new TCP/IP stack, version 5.25.

According to Tyler Smith, marketing manager for Microchip’s RF Products Division, the enhancements take further the work Microchip was doing with ZeroG before the acquisition in that there is now a more optimized matching between Microchip’s PIC controllers and the RF transceiver, brought about through enhancements to the flash firmware and the application programming interface (API). That API has been improved for ease of use and more features for advanced customers. The Connection Manager has also been moved into the module.

The announcement also coincides with the release of a new TCP/IP stack, version 5.25, which adds connection utilities and provides for seamless migration between Ethernet and Wi-Fi networks. It’s free and is downloadable from www.microchipdirect.com.

According to Smith, a key feature of that stack is the EZConfig utility which allows embedded systems to easily associate with any Wi-Fi network by serving up a configuration page to any Wi-Fi-enabled device. Once the SSID and security information has been entered, the device reboots and associates with the desired network. A free ZeroConfig utility, an IETF standard protocol also known as Apple’s Bonjour and Avahi for Linux, is also provided with the stack.

The Wi-Fi module comes in two flavors: the MRF24WB0MA has an integrated pc-board antenna while the MRF24WB0MB has an external antenna connection. They comprise the transceiver, power amplifier, RAM, ROM, an SPI interface and an encryption accelerator, as well as the flash memory, matching circuitry and the antennae.

Fig.1: Block diagram of Microchip embedded Wi-Fi module though key enhancements have more to do with firmware and the TCP/IP stack than with the hardware.

Microchip performed tests using various external antenna configurations. Those results are shown below.


Fig.2: Comparison and evaluation of external antennas used with embedded Wi-Fi module.
Click on image to enlarge.

Sub-GHz modules
At ESC the company also announced the MRF89XA transceiver and transceiver modules for operation in the 868, 914 and 950-MHz bands in applications such as remote metering, home and industrial automation, tire-pressure monitoring, toys and human-interface devices.

The devices uses FSK/OOK modulation, have a receive current of 3 mA, a transmit current of 25 mA at +10 dBm and a receive sensitivity of -107 dBm with FSK and -113 dBm with OOK modulation. The standby current is 0.3 microA and the devices come in a 5×5-mm 32-TQFN package.

The modules come with an integrated pc-board antenna, matching circuit components, FCC/IC/ETSI compliance and support Microchip’s MiWi and MiWi P2P stacks.

Pricing and Availability
The Wi-Fi modules are available now and cost $29.40 each. The TCP/IP stack is free. For more information click here.

MRF24WB0MA PICtail and PICtail Plus development boards are also available now (#AC164136-4) from www.microchipdirect.com for $59.99.

The MRF89XA transceiver is available now and costs $1.76 each per 5,000, while the module will be available in Q3 and will cost $8.50 each.

The MRF89XAM8A (part # AC164138-1) and MRF89XAM9A (part # AC164138-2) PICtail/PICtail Plus daughter boards are also expected to be available in Q3 2010. For more information click here.

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