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NXP Launches Scalable Wireless MCU Series at Embedded World

With support for a bevy of wireless standards, the latest NXP MCUs, unveiled at Embedded World 2024, ease the transition to a connected world.

Today at the 2024 Embedded World exhibition, NXP announced a new series of wireless MCUs built to tackle tough IoT and industrial problems. As more applications go wireless, the newest NXP MCU could give designers more variety when adding wireless performance to their own devices.

The new MCUs expand NXP’s current MCX microcontroller portfolio, including several new features and peripherals. To better understand the new MCU series, we spoke with Sujata Neidig, NXP’s marketing director for wireless connectivity, and Charlie Ice, Connectivity Product Marketing Manager, to find out how the MCX W series distinguishes itself.

Scalable Wireless Connectivity

The MCX W series consists of two unique families to address a wider range of designer needs. The first family, the W71x family, targets simple applications for designers needing more power efficiency. The second family, the W72x family, includes more memory and improved wireless features.

Neidig identified three key characteristics that set the MCX W series apart. First, it securely supports multiple wireless protocols, including Wi-Fi, Thread, Matter, Zigbee, and BLE. Second, the W72x family, in particular, supports Bluetooth Channel Sounding, a new technique for determining the distance between two Bluetooth devices. And third, the series is scalable and compatible with the rest of NXP’s MCX portfolio.

While the two families are unique in terms of pure performance, they also have several similarities to cut back on redevelopment time. Both the W71x and W72x families are available in a 48-pin QFN package, allowing designers to easily port hardware designs from one family to another. Furthermore, both families use an Arm Cortex-M33 processor with a 96-MHz clock. This can considerably shorten redevelopment time if an application requires varying levels of computing performance.

In addition to the 48-pin QFN, the W71x is available in a 40-pin QFN, while the W72x is available in a 112-pin BGA package for devices needing more GPIO.

Dedicated Wireless Processing

A unique feature of the MCX W series is the radio subsystem. While other MCUs may require the main processor to handle the computation for wireless connectivity, the MCX W series uses a dedicated Arm processor to drive the radio. As a result, designers will not have to worry about processing power being shared between the application processor and communications.

“The radio is a highlight of the device. That’s why it’s called the MCX W,” Neidig said. She then explained the significance of the radio’s architecture:

“Within the architecture, you have your main core that has the chip’s memory and mainly runs the application code. Then we’ve built the radio as a subsystem block so that it has its own core and its own memory. The reason we did that is to ensure more robust wireless operation because you can move some of the wireless, especially the low-level wireless functions, onto this subsystem. It frees up space on the main core to run more of the application and also prevents interference from the application with the low-level wireless functions. It also has some of the wireless functions implemented in its own Flash. If there are new wireless protocol versions like Bluetooth or security updates, for example, we can update the software, so our customers can take advantage of those new features.”

The MCX W series packs plenty of peripherals for use in industrial and IoT applications. It also prioritizes security, with NXP’s EdgeLock Secure Enclave safeguarding data-sensitive applications. In addition to supporting IoT mainstays such as Wi-Fi, Thread, Matter, Zigbee, and BLE, the W72x family incorporates Bluetooth Channel Sounding, which allows designers to accurately localize devices, opening the doors for new applications without further consuming processing power.

“We’ve embedded this localization compute engine in the hardware,” Neidig said. “You can think of it as hardware acceleration for doing the computations, so it reduces the latency even further.”

Expanding Into Wireless

NXP expects to begin sampling the MCX W series of MCUs in H2 2024. In addition to the MCUs, NXP is offering evaluation modules for designers to test performance for themselves. NXP has also mentioned plans to continue supporting the latest standards, which will be available through the MCUXpresso SDK.

“In the building automation industry, there’s a significant focus now on how to reduce the global carbon footprint. 30% of energy is wasted in buildings,” Neidig explained. “How does the industry address that? Having this interoperable wireless technology that enables autonomous control is the path we see as the most beneficial to help facilitate this change.”

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