Differences in Beacon System on a Chip (SoC)

You can find the processor chip in the specification section of our beacon descriptions. Most people don’t know what this means or implies. This article will help you make a more informed choice.

nRF51822 in a round beacon

There are currently three main chip families from Texas Instruments (CC25xx, CC26xx), Dialog Semiconductor (DAxxxx) and Nordic Semiconductor (nRF51xxx and nRF52xxx). These chip manufacturers publish standard electronic circuits and software SDKs that beacon OEMs use for their beacons. Hence, most beacons, within a chip family, have very similar designs. Small differences in implementation of board layout in areas such as the power supply, grounding, terminations, connectors and the antenna can cause electrical differences that can cause loss of power.

The strength of the beacon radio signal is affected more by the quality of the beacon implementation, particularly the antenna, rather than the choice of chip. This is also evident in real world tests. We have performed RSSI strength and stability tests on the beacons we sell and haven’t yet found any correlation between signal strength and chip family.

The choice of SoC affects battery use. Newer chip families such as the Nordic nRF52 (as opposed to nRF51) and Texas Instruments CC2640 (as opposed to CC2541) are more power efficient.

Most beacon SoCs transmit up to +4dBm output power for a longer range. A few such as the nRF52840 and CC2640RF can be set to higher output power of +8dBm and +5dBM respectively, with a consequent reduction of battery life. If you are looking for longer range, it’s more usual to use a long range beacon with an additional output amplifier chip.

The newer SoCs have much more memory. This isn’t used for most beacons except for those that store data.

The use of standard SoC manufacturer designs and software means that all beacons work well, adhere to Bluetooth standards and compatibility is never a problem.

TINY Bluetooth® Low Energy SoC and Module

Inside every Bluetooth sensor beacon is a System on a Chip (SoC) that’s a small computer that runs code. Dialog Semiconductor, the manufacturer of the SoC in some beacons, has just announced the world’s smallest (2.0mm x 1.7mm) and most power-efficient Bluetooth 5.1 SoC the DA14531.

The high level of integration means it only needs six additional electronic components and a power supply to make a complete Bluetooth low energy system. It’s expected to bring SoCs down to $0.50 in high volume.

While beacons tend to be limited by battery size rather than SoC size, the reduced price might bring downward pressure on cost. The small size is of more use in power harvesting/wearable scenarios such as printed Bluetooth sensors, connected injectors, glucose monitors and smart patches.

New Low Power Bluetooth LE SoC from Toshiba

The type of System on a Chip (SoC) can greatly affect beacon battery life. At one time it was only Dialog that had low power SoCs. TI, NXP and Nordic followed and now Toshiba has joined them with their new TC35678FSG, TC35678FXG and TC35679FSG (PDF).

Toshiba has more information on these products.
The BeaconZone store has a special category for low power SoC beacons.

New ASensor Beacon

We have the new ASensor beacon in stock. This is our smallest sensor beacon measuring only 37.3mm x 37.3mm x 7mm and it uses the power efficient Dialog DA14580 that gives up to 1.5 years from a CR2025 battery.

The beacon supports iBeacon, Eddystone or sensor advertising. For sensor mode, the temperature, acceleration and battery level are in the advertising data.

asensor_smallerasensor_pcb_smaller

New Solar Powered Beacon

We now have a few samples of the new TON9218 solar powered beacon available. The large 6.5cm x 9.6cm solar panel keeps the on-board rechargeable LIR2032 battery charged using only normal indoor lighting. Even with weak light, the solar panel generates about 100uA that’s 5x the average current consumption. Hence, with the use of the rechargeable LIR2032 battery as backup, this beacon can work almost forever.

ton9218_smaller

As with the other Iotton models, the beacon has an internal timer and uses the Dialog DA14580 that provides 2x to 3x battery life of Nordic nrf51822 based beacons and up to x6 the battery life of TI CC254x based-beacons.