Wireless Systems Design

Software Works So You Don't Have To

Aside from making next-generation radio-frequency design substantially easier, this automated software-design tool decreases overall design time while mitigating risk.

Traditionally, the cover of Wireless Systems Design has featured a product, component, or design tool that in some way stands out from the rest. The cover product may flaunt lower power, lower cost, or higher performance. Or, it may have been designed utilizing an old technology in a new way. It also could be based on a newly developed technology, algorithm, fabrication process, or circuit design. This month's cover product certainly falls into this category. Yet it also offers something that no other cover product ever has: It is 100% free of charge to anyone who wants it!

To obtain this month's cover product, you don't need a deposit. Nor do you have to sign away your life or name your firstborn child after the company that developed it. In fact, there is no catch at all. Impressively, this free product addresses the sticky issue of RF design—a difficult and often tedious task that's best left to RF-design experts.

These days, resources remain limited. In addition, it seems that there are very few RF-design experts around. As a result, many companies rely on their current IC design teams to handle the RF portion of a design. Here is where this month's cover product comes in: It was specifically created to simplify radio-frequency design and the creation of next-generation RF solutions. At the same time, it promises to mitigate design risk and slash overall design time.

What exactly is this free product? It's Micrel Semiconductor's "Its OOK To ASK" automated software-design tool. This tool is now available for use with the company's QwikRadio RF-transceiver family of products (FIG. 1). The QwikRadio product line consists of low-cost, fixed-frequency devices that support simple OOK/ASK modulation. That type of modulation is popular in many of today's actuation applications.

The most recent addition to the QwikRadio family is the MICRF009 integrated circuit (FIG. 2). This chip was just introduced in August. It is a low-power UHF receiver that's designed for use in both the industrial and consumer markets. Compared to previous members of the QwikRadio family, the MICRF009 IC flaunts a higher sensitivity—typically 6 dB higher than previous MICRF00x-series chips—and faster (1-ms) recovery from shutdown.

The QwikRadio receiver line is fully integrated. As a result, the designers that employ these receivers can often select far fewer external components. By comparison, the IC receivers that are available from other companies often demand the selection of many additional components. This feature tends to make the QwikRadio product family much easier to use than competing solutions. But many designers still require assistance in selecting external components that will complement the chosen receiver. In this scenario, any lack of RF design expertise can potentially lead to improper component selection.

The "It's OOK To ASK" design software strives to make the component-selection portion of the RF-design process much less complex and much less intimidating. The tool even goes one step further by providing the designer with the entire receiver design. This software claims to be very easy to use. Once it's started, it also runs quickly. As a result, the designer is free to sort through any number of design options. This capability leads to reduced cycle time and minimized design risk. In addition, designers can now use this streamlined process to design increasingly challenging RF-receiver products into a wide variety of applications.

To use the "It's OOK To ASK" software tool, the designer or engineer simply inputs some of the design parameters that are specific to the application in question. In return, the design tool provides the user with the appropriate selection of key components like the AGC capacitor, CTH data-slicing capacitor, and input-matching and filter components. All of these components are specific to the characteristics of Micrel's silicon—the QwikRadio line of integrated-circuit receivers.

The designer or engineer also receives an output that includes a complete schematic and bill of materials (FIG. 3). In addition, the "It's OOK To ASK" design tool provides the user with a direct link to part of the Micrel web site. At that web location, the designer can access and download the printed-circuit-board (PCB) layout for the recommended design.

The use of company-supplied software tools isn't unusual. For some time now, integrated-circuit companies have provided their customers with tools to help in the selection of key components. Unfortunately, these tools have often been rudimentary at best.

As stated by Scott Brown, Micrel's Director of RF & Mixed-Signal Products, there are tools in existence today that perform only part of the design task: "For example, other companies offer software that will help the designer select things like a phase-locked-loop (PLL) filter component. Some companies also may publish one or two paper reference designs." The "It's OOK To ASK" design software goes way beyond these capabilities by offering designers the complete receiver design. According to Brown, "Rather than just a paper reference design, the software tool provides the designer with all of the details of the best reference design. At the same time, it covers hundreds of permutations. It even provides the Gerber files for download."

This offering also stands apart for other reasons. The "It's OOK To ASK" software boasts a level of sophistication that isn't found in other tools. It can therefore provide more thorough information pertaining to the specific application in question and its associated layout. In short, the "It's OOK To ASK" design software tool promises to provide the most comprehensive, all-inclusive support for RF devices that's available today.

The "It's OOK To ASK" design software from Micrel Semiconductor is now available. It can be downloaded free of charge from the company's web site. This software is ideal for use with the QwikRadio family of RF devices. It also is a good fit for any designer of actuation devices or—more generically speaking—for any designer who is dealing with different types of remote control.

Micrel Semiconductor, Inc.
1849 Fortune Dr., San Jose, CA 95131; (408) 944-0800, FAX: (408) 955-1666, www.micrel.com.

TAGS: Micrel
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