The Raspberry Pi Zero W Adds Wireless Capabilities with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

February 28, 2017 by Kate Smith

Check out the specs on the Raspberry Pi Zero W just released.

The Raspberry Pi Zero W released today brings Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity to the table.

There are many ways that the RPi Zero W is the same RPi Zero we've come to know and love.

For example, the Zero W uses a Broadcom BCM2835 SoC, the same used in the first-gen Raspberry Pi. (The Raspberry Pi 2 and Raspberry Pi 3 used the Broadcom BCM2836 and the Broadcom BCM2837, respectively.) The SoC runs using the same 1GHz ARM11 core and it has the same 512MB of RAM. It has the same 40-pin, unpopulated GPIO and keeps the micro USB slot for power.


The Raspberry Pi Zero W in all its glory. Image courtesy of Raspberry Pi


But the Zero W is something extraordinary even so because of one simple yet crucial addition: connectivity.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Capabilities

The big news, of course, is the new connectivity that the Zero W offers. The Raspberry Pi 3 uses the same radio chip as the Zero W, the Broadcom BCM43438. It supports 2.4GHz 802.11n wireless LAN, Bluetooth Low Energy, and Bluetooth 4.1 Classic.

The antenna, however, has gone from surface-mount to printed. Yep, printed right into the PCB. 


The printed antenna. Image courtesy of The MagPi.


The antenna, then, is no longer an external component out to catch radio waves. Instead, the waves enter the recessed space and resonate at specific frequencies. The antenna was developed for RPi by Proant, a Swedish antenna manufacturer, who carries the InSide™ line of embedded PCB antennas. The principal hardware engineer on the Zero W, Roger Thornton, calls the Proant team "very clever boffins", which we assume is high praise in British.

The inset antenna is credited with allowing the Zero W to stay as compact as possible. The Zero W actually has the exact same dimensions as its predecessor, the RPi Zero (65mm × 30mm × 5mm). However, its new capabilities—paired with the fact that it still only has components on the top side—make it still a marvel in terms of size.


Besides, who's going to complain about the dimensions at this point, anyway? Image courtesy of Adafruit


The hardware ecosystem surrounding the Pi Zero family is in for an interesting year. RPi HATs (Hardware Attached on Top) modules and boards were first introduced in 2014 and have been booming since. HATs and pHATs designed for home automation and IoT designs have been released for years—and it seems that the ones focused on connectivity are about to meet the end of their usefulness. 

The Life of Pi (Zero)

The Zero was first announced at the end of 2015. It was so cheap to produce that it was included free with the 40th issue of The MagPi and offered for $5 thereafter.


Image courtesy of The MagPi


But the fact that the Zero W is the same size as its predecessor doesn't reflect its evolution. Afterall, IoT devices have veritably boomed in the last decade, adding connectivity to refrigerators, toys, cars—apparently, anything can have Wi-Fi if you try hard enough. 

The RPi family, especially the $5 Zero, has opened the door to electronics design for many. Cheap boards like these have allowed professionals to prototype ideas easily, students to learn electronics hands-on, and underserved communities to introduce engineering to their professionals and children alike.

Given the Zero W's $10 price tag, it stands to reason that it may help bring IoT designs within reach of these same disparate groups of people.

At present, the Raspberry Pi Zero W will be available in the US from Adafruit, CanaKit, and Micro Center. Check out the Raspberry Pi website for availability worldwide.

1 Comment
  • RayB April 08, 2017

    $5 and $10 boards?

    Yes, but they will not work out-of-the box for that price.  At a minimum, you are going to need a 4G microSD card and you will need to spend about an hour to download the image file onto your notebook and then to “prepare” the image on the SD card proper.  But, having spent the past 30 days with the Zero and the Zero-W evaluating the boards capabilities, you really do not want to use an SD card less than 8G if you intend on doing any C/C++ software development or if you intend on loading on common Linux applications.  The Raspbian distribution takes the bulk of the 4G card and is a rather lean distribution to get one started; hence the 8G reality.  I personally recommen that for the small cost difference between 8G and 16G, just go with 16G from day one.

    There are other potential costs.  You may want to use a non-HDMI monitor such as DVI or VGA and you will need to spend for the converter (mine cost $9.)  Even if you have an HDMI monitor available (or even your flat screen TV) you will need a microHDMI to HDMI cable and these are somewhat expensive over-the-counter, mine cost $16 from MicroCenter.  You will need a better grade USB AC power adapter: The Zero-W can easily take 750mA during boot-up but settles down to under 0.5A as long as you do not have an expansion board for the I/O.  Consider a power adapter rated at 2.0A to give yourself a bit of breathing room.

    All-in-all, you could spend an additional $30 - $40 USD to create a usable system.  However, you can minimize your investment if you elect to run the Zero/Zero-W headless with no attached video monitor:  Use you PC or tablet and a compatible VNC software to connect to the RPi.  If you only want to use the CLI, you can save even more money and use the OTG USB port to a PC USB port in “gadget mode.”  Google it for specifics.

    Regardless if your final configuration is $10 or $50, the little Zero and Zero-W are fun devices.  One simply must appreciate the limitations of running Linux on an SD system with only 512MB of RAM and a SD flash card - such limitations could be few or could be extensive depending upon your need.  Keep your eyes open as you contemplate this platform.  A large number of RPi projects are available for your review.

    Catch me on Hackster dot io as Ray Burne(tte)

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