Wireless connectivity is merging with technological advancements in silicon, signaling, mass storage and software to meet the high-performance, ultra-low power requirements for next-generation wireless systems. Embedded form factors, seeking to utilize these developing technologies to the best advantage of system designers, continue to evolve by providing enhanced capabilities while simultaneously reducing form factor footprints. As wireless connectivity becomes increasingly ubiquitous, the volume of embedded systems that utilize wireless is expanding. This perpetuates the demand for higher processing power with minimal power draw and size.
Embedded computing systems have long been tethered by wires to a stable infrastructure providing many connectivity options and a continuous source of power. For applications where the data is beyond the network, the solution has often been to build the network out to the data. This approach is feasible in locales where a wired infrastructure exists and the distance to be wired is relatively short, but wired connectivity quickly becomes too expensive as the distance increases. Building out infrastructure is a difficult solution in situations where there is no established infrastructure to begin with.
The solution to the limitations imposed by wires is simple — remove the wires. Though this dream of wireless connectivity has existed since the first network packet was sent over a wire, the technology required to facilitate reliable, high-bandwidth, secure data transmission has only in recent years emerged as a truly viable solution. The continuing evolution and adoption of wireless protocols, including Wi-Fi, WiMax, CDMA, UMTS, LTE, Zigbee, and Bluetooth, along with free worldwide access to Global Positioning System (GPS) data, has unleashed an explosion of wireless consumer devices, including smartphones, mobile Internet devices (MIDs), e-books, portable media players and navigation systems. The success of these products has proven the potential for wireless applications while simultaneously fueling the expansion of the infrastructure necessary to sustain them. This has, in turn, opened the door for sophisticated wireless applications in the embedded systems space. These applications take advantage of increased processing power and expanded system capabilities to revolutionize both existing and emerging embedded applications.
The freedom afforded by wireless systems carries with it inherent design restrictions. Lacking a constant supply of wired grid power, wireless systems typically rely on batteries. Faced with a scarcity of power, stringent control of power consumption is a necessity. Size is also a major design factor, as smaller sizes afford greater mobility. Support for standard interfaces and peripherals is preferred in order to speed time to market, and keep system costs to a minimum. Wireless systems must also communicate over standard networking protocols and utilize advanced data compression and security functions to minimize bandwidth while maximizing data integrity and security. Wireless systems are often deployed in demanding environments subject to extreme physical and environmental stresses, which necessitates the need for ruggedized solutions with unquestioned reliability, especially in the case of remote applications.