CC Blog Datasheet Directories

MCUs with Built-In RF Capability – Chips with Range

Written by Sam Wallace

This month’s Datasheet rounds up nine microcontrollers (MCUs) that come equipped with built-in RF capabilities. Whether via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or another RF capability, the selection of devices in the following gallery covers an array of wireless needs—everything from smart home to industrial to medical applications.

  • RF Capable MCUs
  • Espressif Systems ESP32-C6
  • Microchip PIC32CX-BZ2
  • Nordic nRF54H20
  • NXP IW612
  • NXP’s K32W148
  • Renesas RA4W1
  • Silicon Labs FG28
  • STMicroelectronics STM32U5
  • Texas Instruments CC340R5

As microcontrollers (MCUs) evolved to contain more and more powerful CPUs, the tendency among designers was to devote more of the IC package to these CPUs and leave the memory and peripheral functions to be handled by external chips. And on the customer side, if you required a more powerful CPU, you likely also needed better and more precise peripheral function blocks (and memory) that were best handled using external devices, anyway. Hence, the trend in MCUs for some time was toward more powerful CPUs and less “stuff.”

Today, of course, designers can fit a powerful CPU and a host of peripheral devices into one or two large IC packages. We know and love these powerful new chips as Systems-on-Chips (SoCs), containing most of the peripheral devices needed to make, for example, a personal computer. SoCs are found in Raspberry Pis, single-board computers (SBCs), streaming TV boxes, routers, and so forth.

Notably, while these devices do just about everything else, they typically did not, for a while, have built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. So, when Espressif Systems introduced the ESP8266 in 2014, containing built-in Wi-Fi in addition to everything else found in existing MCUs, it sold like hotcakes. Its successor—the ESP32—added Bluetooth and has proven to be still more popular.

Nevertheless, MCUs with built-in Wi-Fi remain something of a niche class of devices. The smaller applications for which MCUs are used are low-power, often battery-operated, and Bluetooth is of course a much better fit for such applications than Wi-Fi. But any application that either needs to be autonomous (that is, not tied to any Bluetooth host) or needs to transfer large amounts of data (such as a video signal) will probably have to budget the power to run Wi-Fi.

This month’s Datasheet focuses on MCUs with built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or other RF capabilities. The following gallery features some big names, like the aforementioned Espressif, or like Nordic Semiconductor, who have an exciting first offering in a new SoC series. It also includes some, perhaps, lesser-known players—namely, EDATEC, an official design partner to Raspberry Pi based in China. Where possible I highlighted devices with built-in Wi-Fi, but Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy remain the wireless technologies of choice for many of the latest MCUs and SoCs. 

PUBLISHED IN CIRCUIT CELLAR MAGAZINE • July 2023 #396 – Get a PDF of the issue

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Editor-in-Chief at KCK Media Corp. | + posts

Sam Wallace - became Circuit Cellar's  Editor-In-Chief in August 2022.
His experience in writing, editing, and teaching will provide a great perspective on the selection, presentation, and clarity of editorial content. The Circuit Cellar audience will benefit from his strong academic background encompassing a Master of Fine Arts in Writing and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics with honors. His passion for learning and teaching is a great fit for Circuit Cellar's continuing mission of Inspiring the Evolution of Embedded Design.

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MCUs with Built-In RF Capability – Chips with Range

by Sam Wallace time to read: 2 min