Nordic Semiconductor Releases Low-cost Wi-Fi 6 IC Option
The new Wi-Fi companion IC adds Wi-Fi 6 capabilities to an embedded system.
In many modern designs, it’s desirable to create systems that can support multiple different wireless protocols at once. For example, many consumer electronic devices today can support both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Achieving this wireless duality in practice, however, requires several disparate hardware blocks, which can ultimately lead to a significantly more complex design.
Nordic's new nRF7001 IC. Image used courtesy of Nordic Semiconductor
To address this issue, Nordic Semiconductor announced a new Wi-Fi 6 companion IC this week. In this piece, we’ll take a deeper look at the new offering and how it can be designed into a system.
The new nRF7001 is the second device in Nordic’s Wi-Fi companion IC series (coming after the nRF7002) and serves to offer low-power, Wi-Fi 6 connectivity to a system.
nRF7001 block diagram. Image courtesy of Nordic Semiconductor
To this end, the companion IC integrates a 2.4 GHz radio that supports 1 Spatial Stream, 20 MHz bandwidth, and 802.11a/b/g/n/ac/ax compliance. The device is said to achieve a maximum output power of 21 dBm and also supports Target Wake Time (TWT), a key power-saving feature in Wi-Fi 6 applications.
The nRF7001 is designed to work alongside Nordic’s nRF52 and nRF53 Bluetooth SoCs and the nRF91 series cellular SiPs. Alongside these devices, the nRF7001 may be useful for applications like asset tracking, wearables, smart home devices, and any general battery-operated Wi-Fi products.
Using the nRF7001
As a companion IC, the nRF7001 is built to be simply integrated into an existing system with other Nordic solutions.
The interconnection between the nRF7001 and an nRF5340 host. Image courtesy of Nordic Semiconductor
To do this, the nRF7001 features a number of options for interfacing, including a Quad Serial Peripheral Interface (QSPI) for data as well as a 3-wire or 4-wire radio coexistence control (Coex) interface for Bluetooth hosts. Additionally, to properly connect to a host, the nRF7001 requires the use of a HOST_IRQ line and a BUCKEN line, which are responsible for host interrupt control and buck control, respectively.
The peripheral circuitry surrounding the nRF7001. Image courtesy of Nordic Semiconductor
Outside of these connections, the nRF7001 requires a slew of peripheral circuitry and components to support a Wi-Fi connection. For example, the output of the device’s TXRF0 line (in other words, Wi-Fi transmission) is sent through a low-pass filter with a center frequency of 2.45 GHz and a bandwidth of 100 MHz—the output of which is sent to an antenna. Additionally, an inductor is required for the internal boost circuitry, a 40 MHz crystal oscillator is needed for timing, and an array of capacitors is required for decoupling and filtering purposes.
Making Wi-Fi Easier to Integrate
While not all SoCs support Wi-Fi, many product designs require Wi-Fi along with other protocols, such as Bluetooth.
To integrate Wi-Fi into a design, Nordic’s new nRF7001 Wi-Fi companion IC seems to be a good choice, thanks to its ease of integration and compatibility with existing Nordic devices. For designs that already center around Nordic solutions like the nRF52 or nRF53 series, the nRF7001 is a solid solution for adding Wi-Fi support into a system without significantly increasing a design’s complexity.