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Published on April 22, 2020
Wireless connectivity is increasingly an absolute requirement in new products across every industry. The applications of the future are connected to the internet, and a solid wireless strategy is the bridge to that future.
There are two ways to introduce wireless to your new designs, or to add to your existing and upgraded designs. The first is to fit a wireless peripheral to the exterior, via an interface like USB. This means you can use your existing design, or retrofit wireless to existing products. However, there are some serious drawbacks to this approach, which can be avoided by taking the second approach: embedded wireless in your device.
Including embedded wireless in your design has many advantages, not just in terms of aesthetics and simplicity but in terms of actual wireless performance and interoperability. A product designed with embedded wireless at the start offers a higher degree of success, is more reliable, and is more suited to the demands of your application.
Including embedded connectivity in your design means housing all of the communications hardware in the same enclosure. This has multiple advantages, the first of which is aesthetics. A single, contained unit is a preferable and cleaner design. But there’s more than that. Embedded connectivity also means not exposing wireless hardware to the exterior elements, preventing the possibility of external damage or weathering.
Hiding the wireless hardware inside the unit means increased durability, with no exposed wires or connectors to be damaged in the operation of the unit. A rugged and more durable design is a protection of your investment.
The alternative – a fully external wireless unit with external antennas – are vulnerable to water, dust, vibration, and other factors that have the opportunity to degrade or destroy your wireless link. Embedded wireless, on the other hand, is as durable and rugged as your overall product enclosure.
External wireless additions, which typically come in the form of a USB dongle or attachment, introduce a new problem into the design equation: compatibility. An external wireless device will feature its own software, which isn’t guaranteed to be fully compatible with your device’s software or OS. That means that you’ll have to prove out that interoperability, and issues with the two devices may manifest themselves in ways that can be hard to troubleshoot or track down.
Alternatively, designing with embedded wireless means that the embedded radio and its software are by necessity integrated into the software of your host device. You have a higher degree of control over the integration, ownership of the software, and the modification of both. With an embedded wireless module, you have the advantage of customization of your software integration, without the arbitrary hardware/software components that are included in a one-size-fits-all external solution.
As mentioned, most external wireless solutions interface over USB. This is for the obvious reason that the U in “USB” is for universal: most hardware has at least one USB port, and most embedded processors have at least one open USB line for a developer to connect to.
The problem is that sometimes there are multiple peripherals or attachments competing for access to that USB line. What happens when your design evolves, and there are opportunities to design and connect USB peripherals to expand your product’s use cases? If you’re locked in to a limited number of available USB ports or interfaces, you might find that adding wireless to your product is in direct competition with other devices.
Using an embedded wireless module means tying in wireless over other interfaces like SDIO or PCIE. This means you can leave your USB ports accessible for other uses, while leveraging wireless over other commonly available interfaces. Part of future-proofing your design is in leaving room for expansion. USB is a great candidate for new hardware and new functionality, and designing in an embedded wirelessmodule means leaving more room for your product to meet future needs.
Laird Connectivity has over 30 years of wireless design experience, and that experience is immediately present in our module portfolio. We design and manufacture rugged, reliable module hardware for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LTE, LoRaWAN, and more. We design for the use cases that are shaping the future of wireless.
We offer development kits for modules, many ways to develop for design flexibility, industry-unique smartBASIC for hostless applications in Bluetooth and LoRaWAN, and more. We offer a broad portfolio with multiple variants, antenna options, and more to speed your development with the ideal module solution for your design.
At every step from, from design to certification, our in-house experts have the knowledge and expertise to help realize your vision. Our design services teams can help with product design, material design, prototyping, software development, and more. And our accredited EMC test laboratory can help you secure the regulatory approvals you need to bring your product to market.