Tag Archives: AT86RF212B

RF Modules: A low risk path to wireless success

It is rare for a day to go by without having at least one conversation with an embedded developer, project manager, Maker / hacker or hobbyist where the subject of the Internet of Things (IoT) and/or wireless connectivity does not come up in discussion.

Today, IoT is certainly a major focus in product development and wireless is a major component of that solution. Usually, my conversation centers around comments from product developers regarding how difficult it is to develop a production ready wireless product on the first pass; it is especially difficult for the growing number of product developers or Makers that are just getting their feet wet in wireless design and development.

Only the very experienced RF designers are willing to start from scratch when beginning a new wireless product design. For the rest of us, we look for proven reference designs and more recently, the first thing we browse for is an off-the-shelf certified module.

In comes Atmel! The company has recognized for a while that RF modules provide a low risk path to success, for those seeking to add wireless connectivity to their product. And, it is this realization that has led to a growing family of RF modules to meet one’s wireless needs in Wi-Fi, 802.15.4, and BLE coming soon.

Examples of 802.15.4 Zigbit wireless modules.

The certified wireless module approach turns a complicated RF design task into an easier, more manageable digital peripheral interface task. Don’t misunderstand me, one still must be careful and adhere to best practices in your embedded PCB design to support an RF module; however, it is a much easier to be successful on the first go-around when using an RF module than it would be starting from a chipset or IC layout and design.

typical wireless module

A typical wireless module with on board “chip” antenna (white rectangle shown in image).

For the most part, the layout of impedance controlled traces, and antenna layout and matching are all taken care of for you when using a module. Usually, the most difficult thing you have to consider is placement of the module on your target or carrier board, such that your placement does not adversely affect the radiation pattern or tuning of the antenna.

Not only does the design become simpler, but the costs associated with getting a wireless device to market becomes lower.  Because in general, all of the fees and time associated with governmental certification testing for agencies like the FCC, CE and IC (Industry Canada), are already taken care of for you. Also in most cases, the modules are shipped with a unique IEEE MAC address pre-programmed into the module’s non-volatile memory, so that each unit has a world wide unique address. By using a module that contains this pre-programmed assigned address, you can avoid the costs of obtaining a block of IEEE addresses assigned to your company.

At first glance, the cost of using a complete pre-certified RF module in a production design, as compared to implementing one’s own chip set design may appear more expensive. However, for those doing this for the first time with a staff that does not have a lot of RF design and certification experience, the hidden costs and time required to achieve the performance your application requires and to get the product into the market, leads to a lot of unwanted surprises requiring multiple attempts to achieve the final goal. Starting with a module helps get the product into the market faster with less risk, and provides a way to get product acceptance, before having to deal with cost reduction activity’s that may require moving from a module solution to a chip set solution.

For those that get to the position where the use of a pre-certified module on a proven product requires a cost reduction, Atmel has a solution ready for you. Each of the Atmel Zigbit modules have complete Altium design files and Gerber files available for free download via the Atmel website. This will enable you to take the exact design files that were used to create the module you were using or considering, and to use these files to devise your own version of that design. You can then have your new chip based layout manufactured by your own contract manufacturer; thus, you do not have to start over from the beginning and you already know that this RF design works well and can be easily certified. Governmental certification of your own board layout would be required, and in the case of the United States, you would be given your own FCC ID assigned to your company for this product.

For those product designers that are experienced in RF layout and design, a module can allow you to create a proof-of-concept product prototype very quickly and with little effort. Once the concepts have been proven and features have been decided upon, you can migrate from module to chip set design for high volume production.

Software developers, Makers, and hobbyists can eliminate a lot of the issues often found when trying to create low volume wireless products by obtaining one of the many Atmel evaluation boards that contain a wireless module.

These boards typically come with a bootloader and with some form of pre-loaded firmware to get you started immediately. You can explore that topic in more detail in an earlier Bits & Pieces post that describes the wireless composer and the Performance Analyzer firmware.

The Performance Analyzer firmware is what typically comes pre-installed on a Zigbit module “evaluation” board. Otherwise, the module itself would come with only a pre-programmed bootloader.

module evaluation board

You can learn more and download user guides / datasheets for the Atmel Zigbit modules via this link.

With the Internet of Things becoming such a focus at this time, you may want to get started with a pair of low-cost wireless module evaluation boards and use this platform to learn wireless connectivity techniques that can be used in your current or future job.  Demand for those with knowledge and experience in wireless connectivity and embedded systems is growing greater everyday.

Whether you’re a Maker or an engineer that wants to create a home project that requires a microcontroller and some type of wireless connectivity, you might want to take a look at the ATZB-256RFR2-XPRO evaluation board that includes the ATZB-S1-256-3-0-C module already mounted on it. This module is based upon the megaAVR microcontroller core and includes an 802.15.4 2.4ghz radio as a peripheral/.You may recognize the megaAVR core as being the same MCU core as used in the well-known and incredibly popular Arduino Uno board. You can use the familiar Arduino IDE for development and many of the Arduino libraries available on the internet will run directly on this module. Additionally, you can also find a bootloader and sample Lwmesh (Light Weight Mesh wireless networking) applications for this module here. (Search for for “ATmega256RFR2 Arduino Solution.”)

Look to our friends at Adafruit and Sparkfun to obtain various sensor breakout boards to complete your wireless connectivity projects.

Do you have big ideas? You can feel confident that with the 256k of flash program memory and the 32k of data sram available with the ATZB-S1-256-3-0-C module, as you will be able to create any Arduino application that comes to mind. And don’t forget, you have an onboard 802.15.4 2.4Ghz radio for your wireless connectivity needs. If you find you need additional features in your development and debug tools, you can simply move to Atmel Studio with its rich set of features.

Calling all Radio Amateurs CQ CQ CQ de NS1C… 

Are you now, or have you been in the past, involved in Amateur Radio? Have you been dreaming about QRP low power radios that are very small, battery operated, a complete radio solution, and cost in the $29 to $39 dollar range? You’re in luck — boards and modules are available that operate in the 915mhz or 2.4ghz radio bands! As a HAM radio operator, you are allowed to take the capabilities of these 802.15.4 radio modules even further than an engineer who is required to create a license free ISM radio solution. You can experiment with additional RF output power and experiment with high gain directional antennas (use the modules with u.FL RF connectors).

Maybe a nice field day project for next year would be to use a low power 15.4 radio from the top of a mountain or high hill and use mesh networking to see how many hops a group of participants can communicate over. Voice communication certainly could be implemented using external analog circuitry and some additional software; however, when getting started, you could stick to digital data communications or use the wireless microcontrollers to control or monitor other components of your Amateur radio station.

Parents teach your children…. or maybe, children teach your parents!

I am sure that everyone can think of many home or science fair projects where a parent and child can work together (hardware / software / documentation) and everyone can learn something new. Heck, in the end, you may actually invent the next great product that your family can introduce to the world!

Your possibilities are endless.

GridVortex talks Atmel on LinkedIn

Jonny Doin, the founder and CEO of GridVortex Systems, recently explained why and how his company uses Atmel microcontrollers (MCUs) in a series of LinkedIn posts.

First off, Doin said he was quite pleased with the support he’s received from global Atmel staff in various locations, including San Jose, France, Spain and Germany.


“We needed support for the crypto core details for the CPKCL and promptly [kicked-off] a teleconference with the crypto guys in France,” he wrote. “I now try to use Atmel parts in all my projects.”

In terms of specific silicon, Doin said:

“If you need a Cortex-M that does serious crypto operations, consider using an [ARM-powered] SAM4C16 from Atmel. It is a dual Cortex-M4 with 1MB/2MB Flash, 128K/256K RAM and very strong crypto support. The chip is targeted [at] Legal Metrology and offers secure hardware crypto to support TLS/SSL.

“It [also boasts] hardware support for ECC512, RSA1024, independent circuitry for AES and a subsystem that monitors memory areas and generates exception when the hash of the area changes. From what I saw, [this] is the fastest ECC512 engine in a microcontroller, [although it does not] tax the MCU cores. [Yes], you will need a crypto NDA to get access to the crypto hardware documentation, but the ECC crypto API is really complete. The timings are impressive and outperform [other microcontrollers].”

Doin also noted that he is currently testing an Energy Meter that includes an ARM-based SAM4C.

“Atmel has won almost all chips on my design. I am using the SAM4C, ATM90E25, AT86RF212B and the LED controllers from mSilica, MSL20xx. I try to use Atmel parts in all my projects. The IPv6 router for my mesh networking is being designed around the SAMA5D3. The intelligent nodes in the mesh are SAM4C16+AT86RF212B. My software defined LED power driver is being built around the SAMD10/MSL20xx and our intelligent smart vision cameras will also use Atmel processors.”

In addition, Doin confirmed that his company was in the process of designing its endpoint hardware with the SAM4C16.

“The documentation is really good, and so far we just got everything we needed directly from the datasheet,” he added. “Maybe we’ll [also] decide to use a SAM4C32 in one of our designs, so I am looking forward to the updated datasheet.”

Last, but certainly not least, Doin said he successfully designed a high-precision servo-DAC using delta demodulation and one of the center-aligned PWMs of the SAM4C16.

“Using just one digital output and one ADC input I achieved a very stable, precision DAC, at under 19cents of external discrete components. I [recently showcased] the DAC prototype at a recent meeting in Atmel San Jose. I plan to publish the design as an AppNote for the SAM4C16 (and also for the ATmega, which also has the same PWM) and present it as a lecture at the next Embedded Systems Conference,” he concluded.

Interested in learning more about Atmel’s portfolio for your next project? You can check out a detailed breakdown of our microcontrollers here.

A closer look at Atmel’s smart energy platform (Part 4)

In part one of this series, Bits & Pieces introduced Atmel’s recently launched SAM4C series of products, with a spotlight on the SAM4C16 and SAM4C8. In part two, we took a closer look at both the software and hardware metrology of the SAM4Cx. In part three, we discussed Atmel’s family of PLC physical layer and system-on-a-chip (SoC) area standards-compliant OFDM-based solutions, designed for narrowband communications using a low-voltage electric power distribution network.

Today we’ll be talking about wireless connectivity products in the context of Atmel’s smart energy platform. As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, efficient smart energy wireless applications require both high-performance and power efficiency, which is why Atmel’s transceivers deliver a leading RF link budget with the industry’s lowest power consumption.

In addition, we offer the most feature-rich IEEE 802.15.4-compliant transceiver family available. Indeed, Atmel transceivers support both regional 700/800/900MHz, as well as global 2.4GHz frequency bands. This enables engineers to develop wireless applications for customers worldwide, including emerging markets like China.

“Powerful hardware features like antenna diversity or external power amplifier support let engineers further boost transceiver performance to maximize network reliability and RF range of their system,” an Atmel engineering rep told Bits & Pieces.


“Atmel MCU wireless transceivers support not only IEEE 802.15.4-compliant applications, but provide on-air data rates up to 2Mbit/s for general purpose ISM applications, with pin compatibility ensuring an easy transition between devices or frequency bands.”

Key products include Atmel’s AT86RF212B, a low-power, low-voltage RF transceiver for the regional 700/800/900 MHz frequency bands which is available in Japan, China, Europe and North America. This transceiver offers an extremely optimized 120 dB link budget (-110 dBm receiver sensitivity /+10 dBm transmit power) designed for low-cost IEEE 802.15.4, ZigBee and high data rate ISM (industrial, scientific and medical) applications.


Meanwhile, Atmel’s AT86RF233 transceiver is targeted at the 2.4GHz ISM band, available worldwide. This transceiver offers link budgets up to 105dB (-101dBm receiver sensitivity/+4dBm transmit power). To help engineers accelerate system development and prototyping, Atmel also offers a variety of free software suites, various hardware evaluation boards, as well as development kits and modules.

These include:


  • SAM4CMP8/16/32 Metrology Demo Board
  • ATM90Exx AFE + SAM4C Demo Board
  • ATM90Exx AFE + SAM4L Demo Board
  • SAM4C Xplained Pro Evaluation Kit

Power Line Carrier

  • SAM4CP16 PLC evaluation kit.
  • Certified PRIME stack (base node and meter).


  • Evaluation Kits and Reference Designs for IEEE 802.15.4 compliant Transceivers and SOCs,
  • e.g. AT86RF212B (sub-1GHz) and AT86RF233 (2.4 GHz).
  • SAM4 Xplained Pro Evaluation Kits combined with wireless extension boards.


  • SAM4S and SAM4L Xplained Pro evaluation kits.

Interested in learning more about Atmel’s new comprehensive smart energy platform? Be sure to check out our official smart energy product page, along with part onepart two and part three of our deep dive.

Maximizing sub-1GHz spectrum for the IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a future world where all types of electronic devices link to each other via the Internet. Today, it’s estimated that there are nearly 10 billion devices in the world connected to the Internet, a figure expected to triple to nearly 30 billion by 2020.

As Magnus Pedersen, Atmel’s Product Marketing Director MCU Wireless points out, engineers need to review anticipated use cases and select an appropriate wireless transceiver before embarking on a new IoT design.

“While there are many technical considerations, developers also need to be mindful of any tools that might be available to aid a faster development cycle,” he explained in a recent article published by EE Times Asia. “Any tools that analyze power consumption and error testing together with library code for the host MCU will greatly assist this aspect of the design.”

Availability of low-level IEEE802.15.4 MAC drivers, and for smart metering and other mesh-based applications, a mesh networking stack is essential. A well-supported wireless transceiver will have a readily available development or evaluation board on which prototype designs can be quickly tested and debugged prior to the design’s completion.

“Leading the development of sub-GHz applications are the new wireless transceiver ICs such as Atmel’s AT86RF212B, a low power, low voltage 769 – 935MHz transceiver specifically designed for ZigBee / 802.15.4, 6LoWPAN and high-speed ISM applications,” Pedersen continued. “The only external components required are a crystal, bypass capacitors and an antenna. All analogue radio, digital modulation/demodulation and data buffering takes place on the chip.”

The transceiver also incorporates an on-board 128bit AES encryption engine. In addition to supporting current IEEE 802.15.4 modulation schemes, the  AT86RF212B supports proprietary data rates up to 1,000 kb/s, enabling high-speed ISM applications.

“Many Internet of Things (IoT) designs will be battery powered, and in most cases from a single cell. Smart energy and building controls will rely on wall-mounted sensors, so having an ultra-low-power consumption profile will be essential if the product is to gain wide consumer and industry acceptance,” Pedersen added.

“Developers need to profile the overall power budget and take full advantage of sleep modes of the host microcontroller and wireless transceiver. And that is why Atmel’s AT86RF212B device has a sleep consumption of 0.2 uA, receiver on of 9.2 mA and when transmitting at 5 dBm power a consumption of 18 mA.”

The full text of “Maximizing sub-1GHz spectrum for IoT” is available here on EE Times Asia.