Connected Product Design & System-on-Module Strategy

Dan Kephart -
system on module strategy
Illustration: © IoT For All

Over the past two years, supply chain challenges have caused continuous headaches for design engineers. Shortages have made widely used components difficult or impossible to find. And in some cases, critical parts used in product designs have suddenly ceased production. Chip and component manufacturers are struggling with prolonged delays for materials, leading to long wait times for fulfilling customer orders. These challenges have thrown a series of wrenches into the plans of product engineers, causing major delays in their development timelines. But system-on-module (SOM) design with integrated wireless provides a way to bypass many of those challenges and accelerate development projects in the process.

Advantages of SOM Design Strategy

A system-on-module design strategy can enable engineers to bypass many of the shortages and delays that would otherwise slow or halt development timelines. Companies are slashing 12-18 months off the projected timeline for projects by using a SOM that already includes wireless to simplify their connected designs in ways that reduce engineering time while also avoiding the current chip and component shortages.

Using a SOM strategy may be particularly helpful for engineering teams working on products that are not produced in ultra-high volumes like consumer products typically are. Some of the product types that SOM is often ideal for include medical devices for use in healthcare settings and in the home, industrial systems with visual displays, voice-activated handsets for commercial and industrial use cases, ruggedized scanner systems, and more healthcare, commercial and industrial use cases. Let’s take a look at several more advantages of system-on-module design:

#1: Eliminates Complex Tasks

The single-board design eliminates the complex engineering tasks that are required in the chip-down design to integrate the two key elements of a wirelessly enabled device onto a single board: the central processing unit with its associated memories and power management that supports the application and the wireless module that enables connectivity. This creates a single integrated circuit board that includes the wireless module, the device’s main processor, high-speed RAM, reliable flash memory, and power management. This allows design teams to leap ahead in the product development process. This approach also involves far fewer components, reducing the chances that projects will be bogged down by shortages and delays in the supply chain.

The integrated solution eliminates a significant amount of design work while also delivering features that would be complex to achieve with in-house engineering resources, including enhanced security, rich multimedia, enhanced connectivity, machine learning, and more. Security is one I should put a spotlight on because so many of the use cases I discussed above – including medical devices and industrial sensors – must meet stringent regulations or corporate standards for security like FIPS and secure boot. Building out these security elements can require months for a chip-down design approach because of how much of the work is time-consuming and done from scratch. It is slow, expensive, and risky. System-on-module design using pre-designed hardware and software solutions can deliver those security features out of the box, saving months of development time in the process.

#2: Resource Partitioning

Resource partitioning is another important tool to use in SOM design. Resource partitioning on the board gives designers the ability to build layers of protection and isolation within the overall design. The first form of this is the ability to run a Linux OS and RTOS simultaneously on different parts of a multi-core heterogeneous application processor. This allows the device’s most critical functions to run in real-time on the microcontroller without being interfered by user-interruptible processing priorities like touchscreen displays.

#3: Virtualization

Virtualization is typically a design concept in the world of servers and data centers where the computing resources within and between servers are used in highly flexible ways to launch, support, and upgrade applications. Virtualization in a server and data center allows organizations to direct computing resources exactly where they are needed, and the same is true within a wireless device. Virtualization within the device’s multi-core microprocessor allows different features to be fully supported by their own dedicated versions of Linux that are firewalled from one another.

For example, connectivity can be isolated to its own Linux instance while display and user input are isolated to a different Linux instance. This ensures that critical features do not have to compete against one another and are prioritized with their dedicated version of the embedded Linux OS. Another benefit of virtualization in a system-on-module system is enhanced security, allowing engineering teams to build firm walls between the wireless radio and wired networking that communicates externally and the rest of the device. This ensures that network-based attacks cannot access other critical functionality and data.

Speed & SOM

The above examples are compelling advantages of a system-on-module design strategy, particularly for applications where security is a priority. But the primary benefit is undoubtedly speed. Supply chain issues make this approach to wirelessly-enabled product design a practical necessity, and SOM design will continue to be a strategy for accelerating design projects even after supply chain challenges subside.

Dan Kephart - Senior Product Manager at Laird Connectivity, Laird Connectivity

Laird Connectivity
Laird Connectivity
Laird Connectivity simplifies wireless connectivity with market-leading RF modules, internal antennas, IoT devices, and custom wireless solutions. Our products are trusted by companies around the world for their wireless performance and reliabilit...
Laird Connectivity simplifies wireless connectivity with market-leading RF modules, internal antennas, IoT devices, and custom wireless solutions. Our products are trusted by companies around the world for their wireless performance and reliabilit...