Positioning is an increasingly important part of an embedded design as more and more devices become mobile. Adding this capability into equipment that has to be smaller, lighter and have longer battery life is a major challenge. At the same time there are the challenges of implementing an effective wireless design with high performance and low power, while meeting the requirements of the project timeline and the certification authorities.
These challenges are being addressed by a new generation of wireless modules that are using the latest miniaturization technologies to make use of the various global positioning systems (GPS) around the world, with the footprint of GPS modules falling dramatically over the last few years.
GPS has several varieties, from the US GPS, Europe’s Galileo, Russia’s GLONASS and the Chinese Beidou systems. Modern wireless chipsets from a wide range of suppliers provide access to all these satellite systems, and advances in silicon manufacturing technology provide access to all these systems.
However, these devices still have to be integrated into a design and there are key components such as SAW filters that cannot be integrated into the silicon, and therefore provide a limit to the amount of miniaturization that is possible purely from silicon.
The integration of the silicon devices can help reduce the power consumption, although there are challenges of RF and digital integration that means the most advanced process technology is not appropriate. There are also issues of static current leakage that increase the power and the handling of noise in the system which can mean more power is required to get the required performance. Higher power consumption means more heat generated and larger batteries required; both of which limit the amount of miniaturization that is possible.
This is critical as the use of GPS modules for applications such as the Internet of Things (IoT) can be dependent on a small tag that tracks high-value items around the world – the smaller the tag, the more effective the tracking system can be. That system may also have to run for years off a tiny cell battery, making the power consumption a critical element in both size and performance.
Similarly for wearable systems, customers are requiring that the end systems are inconspicuous and non-intrusive, driving designs to be as small and power efficient as possible.
While the perceived wisdom is that the optimal implementation of a GPS design is a custom implementation on a board, module makers are allowing more technology to be integrated into a small package that not only reduces the overall footprint, but they are also providing pre-certified components to reduce the compliance time of the project and reduce the time to market.
Being able to use chip-scale packaging for the receiver and the power management chips and integrate other passive devices into a substrate that is optimized for the power consumption allows the system designer to use lower cost two-layer printed circuit boards that can be easily manufactured, rather than a complex custom design that pushes the tolerance of the manufacturing process.
This is a key issue in the production of such boards that are pushing the limits of miniaturization. To get the smallest design with a custom layout, chip-scale ICs and discrete components mean pushing the limits of the manufacturing tolerances, increasing the risk of problems with the units and reducing the yield. Reducing the guard tolerances also has a bigger effect on the RF front-end, potentially increasing the noise and hitting the overall performance.
Telit is a key provider of machine-to-machine systems and so has applied the latest miniaturization technologies to its latest GPS modules.
The Jupiter JF2 measures 11 x 11 x 2.6 mm in a 32-pin pad QFN (Quad-Flat No-leads) package and weighs just 1 gram for integrating into systems where weight is a challenge. The heart of the JF2 is the SiRFstarIV integrated silicon receiver that is combined with other key components.
One of the key advantages of the module is that it can be seamlessly integrated with Telit’s cellular and short-range wireless modules to provide a flexible solution for machine-to-machine (M2M) and Internet of things (IoT) designs. The 1.8 V supply and low-power modes allow it to be used in applications from fleet monitoring to battery-powered fitness designs.
Despite the small size, the module has been optimized to provide sensitivity stability particularly at the extremes of -40 and 85°C, maintaining the performance down to -147 dBm in acquisition and -163 dBm in tracking the satellite signals. It also provides one-satellite acquisition of the UTC time signal alongside the 48-channel signal acquisition and digital signal processing.
One of the key elements of a miniature GPS design is how quickly it can get a fix on the satellites. The JF2 has several stand-by modes, from TricklePower, Push-To-Fix, and Micro Power that are designed to meet different requirements for the interval between position updates and for power consumption. All of these modes are similar but provide different output rates and reliability, from 14 μA in hibernation mode to 10 mA in tracking mode.
For more detail: The Miniaturization of GPS Systems