It’s an electronic component to be used at the SoC output to amplify the signal prior to being sent to the antenna. We expect this to be included in some future long range beacon designs. However, note that it uses more current (115 mA at +20 dBm) so is less suitable for use in coin-cell based battery powered designs.
Our ultra long range beacons already use RF amplifiers but from different component manufacturers. For example the iB003N-PA uses a RFAXIS X2401C chip to achieve up to 300m range. The FSC-BP109 also uses an output amplifier to reach up to 1000m on Android and 4000m on iOS but this beacon requires USB power.
Nordic, the manufacturer of the System on a Chip (SoC) in most beacons, has a new blog post on Five Things You Didn’t Know About Nordic’s Mobile Development Apps. The post mentions less visible features of nRF Connect on iOS and Android. For example, you can get a useful RSSI graph by dragging the screen towards the right from the centre:
Nordic Semiconductor, the manufacturer of the System on a Chip (SoC) in most beacons has a useful online calculator that helps work out the battery current used when advertising or when connected.
You need to set the SoC chip type (see the specification for the beacon you are using), voltage (3v as it’s usually a coin cell), DCDC (usually off), clock (usually external) and tx payload (set to 31 bytes). You can then vary the role (advertising or connected), power and advertising interval to see the affect on the battery current.
Dividing the battery capacity by the current will gives the approximate battery life. The resultant battery life calculation will be a very rough approximation and will be less if the manufacturer has added extra circuitry such as sensors. The online calculator is best used to get an appreciation of how changing parameters or the SoC type affects battery life rather than being a definitive value. For more accurate battery use it’s necessary to measure the actual battery current.
The AS_NRF51 Flex-BLE (pdf) is an ultra-thin version of Nordic’s nRF51822 SoC wafer-level CSP (WL-CSP), employing American Semiconductor’s ‘FleX™ Semiconductor-on-Polymer™’ (FleX SoP) process to reduce package size to approximately 35µm—roughly half the thickness of a human hair.
The largest component of beacons and Bluetooth sensors is usually the battery rather than the SoC. However, the Flex-BLE version will be especially suited to energy harvested and solar solutions where it will be possible to create very thin beacons that can be invisibly manufactured into products or their packaging.
Nordic have news of a new cycling helmet with embedded nRF52 device, also used inside many beacons, that detects acceleration and in conjunction with an app, can send location and crash alerts.
While it’s an interesting and innovative product, most of the work is done by the app. There’s no reason why a generic acceleration sensor beacon couldn’t have been used within the helmet (or elsewhere). However, we guess including anything extra inside a helmet, in a safe manner, poses some challenges.
An insight from this is that there are probably many untapped opportunities for vertical sensor beacon type applications that predominantly make use of apps to provide for much of the functionality.
The iB003N-PA has a range up to 300m because it uses the RFAXIS X2401C 2.4GHz amplifier to increase the range.
When you use the manufacturer app to change the power output by a beacon, you are changing the power output by the Nordic nRF51 System on a Chip (SoC) that is usually fed to the antenna. In the case of the iB003N-PA, the RFAXIS X2401C instead receives the signal, amplifies it and sends it to the antenna. The resultant change in output is:
20dBm is the maximum allowable output for class 1 Bluetooth. There’s no difference whether you set to 0dBm or 4dBm, the output will be 20dBm. Even at a low power setting, -10dbm, the amplified output is 10dBm which is relatively high compared to the nominal 0dBm for most beacons. That’s just over 3x the power (3dBm change is a doubling of power) of a normal beacon. You can see that this beacon is primarily designed for long distance and there’s no need to change the SoC power from the default 0dBm = 20dBm.