Raspberry Pi Pico W Analysis

Raspberry Pi Pico W
Raspberry Pi Pico W
Raspberry Pi Pico W
Raspberry Pi Pico W Teardown

A couple of days ago, Raspberry Pi Foundation released their new board Pico W for $6 which is an extension of the basic Pico board with wireless capabilities. It’s a big deal in the maker/hobby market because of the price. Now there is a good competitor to the ever-popular ESP32 series because of the wireless option. The board comes with WiFi for IoT applications.

Pico W contains the RP2040 chip which is a Cortex M0+ chip(one of the best in the class chip for the price of <$1, check posts of last year for detailed analysis on this chip) and to enable wireless capabilities they have partnered Infineon and used their CYW43439 dual-purpose wireless chip. It can do WiFi(2.4GHz) and Bluetooth 5.2. Currently, only WiFi is enabled on firmware but BLE support I am sure will soon follow. CYW43439 contains a dual-processor M3 and M4 for handling each of WiFi and BLE stack with a single physical antenna section handling both. Although it contains those processors, they are not application processors and are merely there for handling communication(Unlike Nordic’s BLE series). It needs a host controller to handle the application and transmit the data via high-speed SPI to it. If you check the PCB layout you can find the BGA wireless chip under the metal casing(Mostly for passing certification tests of EU and FCC) for the radio module with a dedicated crystal and 2.4GHz PCB antenna coming out of it.

I am sure folks from Arduino are starting to feel the heat with Rpi launching much cheaper boards. One thing it has going for it is its availability. I don’t know how on earth Rpi Foundation is able to have chips available in these days of shortage. It seems to be the only major brand out consistently having chips and boards. I do believe one key factor for that is the professional/industry is not using RP2040 in major products. It’s a decent chip but has its flaws(No Flash Memory, poor low power performance etc). Overall it’s a good maker board as an ESP32 alternative.

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Yet Another IoT Communication Standard: NR+

Iot standard xkcd

There is an old xkcd comic I like to refer to when people talk to me about industry standards. Everyone seems to be on a separate bandwagon and eventually, some trigger point occurs in that domain and one standard will win out based on market forces. It may not be the greatest standard but it’s the one which is the most popular. This week I got introduced to a new communication standard called the DECT NR+(New Radio+) which is based on DECT-2020 released as part of 5G. It has a few interesting things going for it to spike my interest. Let me explain.

It’s a non-cellular standard(unlike NB-IoT and LTE-M), meaning you don’t need it to talk to mobile towers(So no need for subscription charges, similar to BLE, LoRa). There are no licensing headaches and charges, as it’s on an unlicensed spectrum range of 1.9GHz which is free to operate worldwide(Except India and China). Its meant to cater to Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication (URLLC) market with a latency spec of 1ms which is pretty great. Reliability is the key term here, they want this standard to be a replacement for a wired system. Ask any engineer they would still prefer wired solutions like ethernet for mission-critical data communication. NR+ is supposed to be the wireless equivalent of that.

NR+ can do high data rates of communication (Think WiFi) which will ensure that high bandwidth use cases are taken care of. Caters to massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC) type of use cases like self-driving cars on the road, low-power sensor networks, and smart meters. It can support upto a 1mn nodes in 1sq km, which is also huge. It has a large range claiming to be at around 1-2km on open fields. Has a self-healing mesh in which if one node fails in the network, data can be rerouted through some other node to reach its destination.

Well for internet connectivity for NR+ mesh, you would still need an edge device communicating to the internet. This standard is still in the early stages and will potentially hit commercial products in the next couple of years. There seems to lot of good stuff going for this standard, but will it win out? Only time will tell. If you need to learn more about this I would suggest reading the ETSI standard ETSI TS 103 636-1 for the full specs and checking out a webinar from NordicSemi on this for an overview of the tech. NordicSemi seems to be heavily invested in this as the next big thing.

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