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Ask the Quexperts: What is an IoT module?

What is an IoT module?

An IoT module is the essential enabler of the Internet connection that makes up the ā€˜Iā€™ in IoT. IoT modules are compact computing components that are embedded into devices to enable wireless communication between a device and the network. IoT modules are just one of many components that are placed on a printed circuit board (PCB) that empower the computing and communications functions of a connected device.

One side of the IoT module is connected to an antenna, which can be embedded in the device or be sited externally depending on the network technology selected and the device characteristics. This enables transmission of data to or from the network. In the other direction, the module is connected to a microcontroller unit, which acts as an application processor and is, in effect, the intelligence of the device. This processor is responsible for all the computing functions of an IoT device and directs other components including the IoT module for communicating data.

What are the different types of IoT module?

IoT modules enable all forms of cellular connectivity from 2G to 5G including the various types of LTE and technologies such as narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) as well as other low power wide area network (LPWAN) technologies, including LoRaWAN, plus Wi-Fi/Bluetooth and satellite connectivity. A comprehensive range of IoT modules has been developed by the vendor community to ensure organizations have a maximized choice of products to meet their connectivity needs but modules are also developed with specific use-cases in mind. For example, there are modules specifically designed for the automotive sector and these automotive-grade modules enable mission critical use cases such as autonomous driving.

Another module type is the smart module which features greater data processing and computing capabilities than a standard module. These support applications that rely on greater intelligence and need features such as multi-media playback or need to support high-definition displays. Typical applications include point-of-sale systems and ride-sharing use cases.

At the other extreme are massive IoT modules. These, as the name suggests, have been designed to cater for very large-scale deployments of relatively simple devices. Key features include ultra-low power consumption and excellent cost efficiency. Typically, massive IoT modules do not require the ultimate in the network performance so LTE Cat-1 and Cat-M and NB-IoT or LPWA connections offer the ideal balance of cost versus performance. The key to success here is robust, low power, competitive cost modules that are durable for the lifespan of projects.

What are the common advantages of IoT modules?

IoT modules have been adopted because they radically simplify device design thanks to removing the need to add several components into a device. Cellular IoT modules, for example, include the baseband chipset, the radiofrequency (RF) front end, multiplexers, memory and a voltage regulator as well as the integrations between these components. This helps reduce the development burden, taking away the need for RF engineers to design each component into the PCB of the device. A further benefit is that the use of an IoT module can help streamline and accelerate the device certification process. Cellular IoT modules are certified for use on mobile operator networks already so the time needed to certify a device containing a certified module can be reduced significantly.

IoT module providers have the scale, R&D muscle, supply chain capabilities and support resources to help IoT organizations bring new devices to markets across the globe with minimized friction and maximized efficiency, with modules optimized for deployment types. As IoT deployments scale up into tens of billions of connected devices, the IoT module is proving to be a foundational enabler of mass-scale, secure, embedded wireless connectivity.