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Next gen wireless apps with FRAM-based MCUs

Posted: 14 May 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:embedded wireless? ferroelectric random access memory? microcontroller?

Despite its remarkable and steady growth, the embedded wireless segment has not yet realized its full potential as some fundamental design problems remain unsolved. These challenges are due to limitations in battery and supply solutions, varying memory requirements, wireless security, and reliability. The recent revolutionary change in memory technology, highlighted by the release of embedded ferroelectric random access memory (FRAM), offers developers the best option to tackle these design obstacles. This article will explore these design challenges and the unique features FRAM offers as a memory alternative for embedded wireless applications.

FRAM behaves similarly to DRAM, allowing for random individual bit access for both read and write. Unlike EEPROM or Flash memory technology, FRAM access requires no special sequence or higher programming voltage. However, FRAM is non-volatile, thus retaining its contents when power is removed and offers more flexibility, eliminating any design compromises bi-partisan memory traditionally causes.

Though standalone FRAM has been available in the market, its adoption has been limited to general usage in memory storage devices. However, the recent advancement of FRAM technology by on-chip microcontroller (MCU) integration has rightfully promoted and popularized this next-generation memory technology to a much broader application space. The coupling of FRAM with MCUs has in fact enabled the full realization and utilization of the unique memory features in FRAM: universal memory, low-power access, flexibility, high endurance and reliability. The importance of these features can be advantageous and essential in any embedded system; they also happen to be the empowering key features embedded wireless applications have been missing all this time.

Figure 1: Selecting memory configuration with universal memory.

Enabling various wireless stacks
Perhaps the most interesting and unique characteristic of wireless communication is the amount of design freedom the medium offers in terms of radio parameters such as frequency, bandwidth and output power, or network specifications such as topology and operation, packet definition and various other protocol-specific requirements. Such variations stem from the necessity to tailor designs to the specific needs of different wireless applications, which can drastically diversify the requirements, especially evident in memory for wireless software.

Even within more standardized protocols and standards regulated by governing bodies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or near-field communication (NFC), the actual implementations for the same protocol could vary greatly in memory requirements depending on the features or chosen MCU platform.

Using the traditional Flash-RAM memory module, the program and data memory sizes usually dictate the specific MCU chosen out of a limited pool of devices and memory configurations. This approach prohibits any major changes in the code that might overrun the memory boundaries and force a design with a larger device to future-proof potential firmware upgrades or data requirement changes. Having multiple applications means increasing your development effort, inventory and issuance. Even more importantly, this outdated and restrictive approach essentially limits the innovation that can potentially stem from the development process.

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