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Sierra Wireless smart modules reduce IoT development complexity

Steve Rogerson
June 19, 2015
Sierra Wireless has introduced the next-generation of its AirPrime WP series of smart wireless modules, designed to reduce system complexity and accelerate the development of connected products and applications for the IoT. The Canadian company has also announced Project Mangoh, an open hardware reference design, with an open interface standard adopted by three industry partners – Freescale, Linear Technologies and Texas Instruments.
“With the introduction of the new AirPrime WP series modules, we have launched a powerfully integrated device-to-cloud architecture to make it easier for our customers to innovate,” said Dan Schieler, senior vice president for Sierra Wireless, at the company’s Innovation Summit this week in Paris, France. “With an application processor running the open source Legato platform, along with the AirVantage cloud for device and application management, and a new open hardware reference design, the latest WP Series modules enable developers to quickly build connected products using a single module to run all their applications.”
The WP series is interchangeable and footprint-compatible with the AirPrime HL series, and is available in 3G and 4G LTE variants with 2G fallback on certain modules. Like the HL series, the WP modules can be soldered down or used with a socket, for flexibility in manufacturing and inventory management. The form factor, called CF3 (common flexible form factor), will be supported by Sierra Wireless through multiple generations of both WP and HL product lines, providing a secure migration path for customers through multi-year deployments.
The next-generation AirPrime WP has a low-power mode for applications that need to prioritise power management over constant connectivity. This deep-sleep mode is for industrial solar- or battery-powered applications where constant connectivity is not required, opening up use cases for cellular connectivity where it was previously impractical.
For OEMs and developers, the integration of processors and device software with wireless functionality can be complex and time-consuming, even more so when modifications are required for each region and each generation of the product. If location-based services are required, a GNSS receiver must be integrated as well. Furthermore, the data from the wireless connection, the connected asset and its location must be aggregated and delivered to enterprise applications.
The next-generation AirPrime WP series is designed to address all these issues. It has an integrated processor and a GNSS receiver, reducing the number of components, integration time and cost for developers. The Linux-based Legato platform running on the module’s processor provides the modem services needed to get the module communicating on a cellular network, plus an application framework and secured processing space to run third-party applications. Through Legato, AirPrime WP modules are pre-integrated with the AirVantage cloud for simple, secure configuration and management of the device and its data once deployed. 
The beta release of Project Mangoh, a wireless open hardware reference design, uses the full feature set of the AirPrime WP modules. The reference design provides a flexible, Arduino-compatible platform based on industrial-grade components, which enables developers to go from prototype to market. It also incorporates an IoT connector, designed by Sierra Wireless and released as an open interface standard, to simplify development, promote interoperability and enable more wireless use-cases for IoT.
“Reducing complexity for IoT developers is a key priority for us – we believe it is essential in fostering innovation,” said Philippe Guillemette, chief technology officer for Sierra Wireless. “The release of Project Mangoh and the IoT connector standard provides developers with the building blocks they need to get from their concept to prototype very quickly, and then into production without the need for significant redesign. Along with our new AirPrime WP modules and the Legato platform, we have a flexible solution to build and test new ideas, simplifying development.”
Built using Legato, an open-source Linux-based platform pre-integrated with the AirPrime WP module, the reference design adapts to a wide range of IoT use-cases. Legato enables the WP module to collect data seamlessly from the IoT modules and Arduino shields, so that every open hardware shield becomes plug-and-play. Additionally, every wireless and sensor module designed with the IoT connector standard can be added in any combination and used out-of-the box with full Legato support.
With Project Mangoh, IoT developers can prototype and test ideas in days instead of months with low investment. Once the prototype is ready and tested, it can be repurposed for mass production using the industrial-grade components of the reference design and the applications developed in the open-source Legato platform.
“We believe the full potential of the internet of things can only be realised when technologies are interoperable,” said Guillemette. “To achieve this, we are actively investing in, and contributing to, both open source projects and standards bodies. Our introduction of the IoT connector open interface standard aims to take some of the complexity and cost out of ensuring that different wireless and sensor technologies communicate effectively.”
Freescale, Linear Technology and Texas Instruments have developed wireless module designs based on the standard, enabling Wifi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Thread and 6LoWPan technologies. Freescale’s Kinetis KW24 ARM Cortex-M4 MCU with integrated radio transceiver supports the IoT connector open interface standard. Talon’s Oasis module, designed with Freescale, is a networking module for smart home applications, with support for Thread, a low-power mesh networking protocol.
“Smart home applications will only be smart if they can work together, across multiple devices from multiple manufacturers,” said Sujata Neidig, business development manager for Freescale. “The industry needs standards, both in hardware and in software, to ensure this interoperability, and the IoT connector open interface standard provides a critical piece of the solution.”
Linear Technology, in collaboration with Sierra Wireless, has developed a SmartMesh IP IoT connector module reference design, which uses 6LoWPan and time slotted channel hopping (TSCH) wireless sensor networking technologies to enable the deployment of low-power industrial sensor networks.
“Industrial IoT applications represent the high bar for network reliability,” said Joy Weiss, president of the Dust networks product group at Linear Technology. “They also require the flexibility for the optimal placement of every sensor, so battery power is an essential option. The SmartMesh IP connector plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the link from the low power sensors to the network is reliable even in harsh industrial environments.”
Texas Instruments has several wireless connectivity options for Project Mangoh, including the WiLink 8 module, a two-in-one Wifi and Bluetooth combo connectivity module, and the CC2530 wireless MCU for Zigbee connectivity. These connectivity options enable users to collect information from a wide range of devices and sensors.
“At Texas Instruments, we are seeing considerable demand for industrial-grade solutions for the internet of things,” said Eran Zigman, business line manager at TI. “The IoT connector meets a real need from our customers for a standard that is robust enough to enable years of service in industrial equipment.”