u-blox Releases Wide-Area 5G Modules for the IoT with an Emphasis on Security and Power Savings

June 13, 2019 by Gary Elinoff

This new cellular chipset from u-blox emphasizes security and power savings.

This new cellular chipset from u-blox emphasizes security and power savings.

u-blox has announced the SARA-R5 series of LTE-M and NB-IoT modules for low power wide area (LPWA) IoT applications. The devices are built on the solid foundation of the company’s UBX-R5 cellular chipset and the M8 GNSS receiver chip

u-blox has built these new devices with all the parts, both hardware and software, out of in-house components. This, in theory, could affect two things in particular: continued product availability for more stable supply chains and a high level of security.


The SARA-R5. Image from u-blox


The ownership of the entire chain of technology makes SARA-R5 modules well-suited for applications involving the transmission and reception of sensitive information. It makes possible the implementation of a unique and unclonable hardware root-of-trust that provides foundational security.

Security and the IoT

Cybersecurity has become more important with the advent of the IoT, with it’s many I/O points. Unprotected, any one of them might provide an entry point through which a malefactor might gain access to the entire system.

Cyber safety was a prime concern to the designers of the SARA-R5. As stated by Andreas Thiel, Head of Product Centers at u-blox, “By integrating a hardware-based Root of Trust in a discrete secure element within the UBX-R5 chipset, we are paving the way for robust secure communication from the chip all the way to the cloud. The secure element is compliant with EAL5+ High common criteria certification, which makes SARA-R5 ideally suited to protect sensitive assets and communications.”

EAL5+ (Evaluation Assurance Level) is a security rating given to a device based on a Common Criteria security evaluation.

Getting Ready for 5G

LTE-M and NB-IoT are forward-compatible with 5G networks, and u-blox has implemented key LTE-M and NB-IoT features from 3GPP Release 14. Thus, when the switch comes, customers will experience a smooth transition via ultra-secure software upgrades to already deployed SARA-R5s.

Two Variations of the SARA-R5

Both modules are what u-blox calls "professional grade"—an in-house definition u-blox uses to describe non-automotive industrial applications. According to their product grades, these two modules can operate in high temperatures and with durability in rugged settings. All products in this grade are JEDEC/ISO 16750 qualified.

Now onto their differences.

SARAR511M targets mobile applications in the automotive, fleet management, tracking, and telematics sectors. The unit includes an antenna for GPS and other satellite mapping systems.

SARA-R510M, draws less than 1 microampere of current in power save mode. Its niche is applications where power savings are a must, such as metering, smart city, connected health, security, and surveillance or remote monitoring.

As illustrated below, the two modules are very similar across their data rates, LTE power class, and interfaces (including UART, USB, and GPIO). 


Comparison of the access technology, positioning capabilities, and interfaces between the SARA-R510M and the SARA-R511M. Image altered from the SARA-R5 Product Summary


They differ in that the SARA-R511M has an integrated GNSS receiver and antenna interface where the SARA-R5510M does not.

Physical and Environmental Considerations

  • Operate with power supplies ranging from 3 volts to 4.5 volts
  • Temperature range:  –40 °C to +85 °C
  • Package: LGA, 16.0 × 26.0 × 2.5 mm, 96-pin
  • Weight: Less than 3 grams
  • RoHS compliant (lead-free)
  • ISO 1675 qualified
  • Manufactured in ISO/TS 16949-certified production site

Evaluation Kits

  • EVK-R510M    Evaluation kit for SARA-R510M
  • EVK-R511M    Evaluation kit for SARA-R511M

Around the Industry

True 5G modules suitable for IoT deployment are still largely in the development stage. This is understandable, as few areas have 5G service at this writing.

Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 5G modem is a single-chip multi-mode solution designed to allow OEMs to build 5G, while still able to communicate via legacy modes such as 2G, 3G, and 4G.