Monday, September 10, 2012

Creating Bluetooth 4.0 accessory - How to start?

We predicted that the Bluetooth 4.0 will be the technology that will revolutionize the gadget and accessory market for mobile devices. The trigger for the avalanche of wireless gadgets could be the upcoming release of iPhone 5 / iOS 6. At the same time as the next generation wireless connectivity finds its way to mobile devices, the world of gadget making has been revolutionized by the crowd-funding sites such as the kickstarter or the Indiegogo. These sites give opportunity to anyone to start manufacturing gadgets of their liking, as long as their idea appeals to large enough audience.

We roundup Bluetooth 4.0 modules from different manufacturers to see what they have to offer for a gadget maker that needs to get
  1. Get their project on a Crowd-funding site
  2. Quick proof-of-concept ready as fast as possible (no one wants to fund slideware)
  3. Final product has decent manufacturing cost (no one wants to buy expensive gadget event for iPhone)
  4. Final product has to have global certifications (FCC and CE minimum)

Chipset vs. Module

There are several Bluetooth Smart chipset vendors. Using a chipset as a base for gadget is something that sounds like a good idea when looking purely at the bill of material. The total cost of manufacturing does not solely depend on the BOM, but in addition of development and certification costs. Modules typically include a chipset, antenna, possibly a crystal and required passives. By using a module the development can speed up since things like RF design is already done. The modules in many cases hold modular radio certifications which both speeds up the certification process and even more importantly saves in certification costs. In this article we will concentrate on comparing modules from different vendors to see which one to pick if one wants to make the ultimate gadget. Lets face it: if you are going for the chipset, you should not even need this article...
Model OLP425 BLE112 BR-LE4.0-S2A PAN1720 ISP091201
Manufacturer ConnectBlue Bluegiga Blue Radios Panasonic InsightSiP
Chipset TI CC2540 TI CC2540 TI CC2540 TI CC2540 Nordic nRF8001
Stack TI stack Bluegiga BGStack TI stack with Connect Blue helper libraries TI stack Nordic stack
External host API HCI Yes, binary API (ANSI C-Library for the host) Yes, AT commands HCI Libraries for host processors
Application hosting With IAR Embedded development studio (3k$) BGScript scripting language
With IAR Embedded development studio (1k$) With IAR Embedded development studio (3k$) Limited configuration only
Certifications Bluetooth (controller subsystem),
Bluetooth (end product),
Bluetooth (end product)
Bluetooth (controller subsystem),
Price ? 13.46USD@1kpcs

AMB2620 from Amber Wireless and RB1000 from Radicom where left out of the comparison since information about chipset nor development tools where available.

Comparing the modules

As can be seen from the table above, the currently available module solutions are mostly based on TI CC2540 chipset. The only module in the list above which has a non-TI chipset is the Nordic Semiconductor chip based ISP091201.

As opposed to the other module manufacturers, InsightSiP is a RF design services company, who sells the design of their modules under licensing. They do not provide any software tools but rely on the chipset vendor's tools. The InsightSiP website did not provide any information regarding the Bluetooth nor regulatory certifications for the module. However their sales representative tells us that they do have certifications for asian markets and that FCC/IC/CE certifications are coming.

The typical way of utilizing a Bluetooth 2.1, Wi-Fi or GPRS module has been by AT commands given by a host controller. In the typical use cases for Bluetooth 4.0 there really is no need for a external host controller since
  • Tasks such as reading measurements from sensor using I2C or ADC are simple
  • Minimizing power consumption is easier with minimal amount of processors
  • Less components means typically lower cost
In the case of Bluetooth low energy the host applications are ideally also run by the module for above reasons. Luckily most of the module vendors do provide this functionality. The most typical approach among the vendors using the TI chipset is to say: just use the IAR studio for 8051 core. The price of 3kUSD that you need to pay for the license is unfortunately a bit too hefty for most of the hobbyists and even for some startups. The users of the BlueRadios module seem to be entitled for a nice discount though, by having 2kUSD reduced from the price tag.

The only module vendor providing free development environment for the CC2540 seems to be Bluegiga, whose BLE112 module comes preloaded with their own Bluetooth low energy stack. The included development environment gives tools for embedding applications using basic style programming language and defining GATT databases using XML. Combining this with the worldwide regulatory certifications gives chipscoop no other option than to go forward with the gadget making process using BLE112.

We will soon release a report on how to make an iPhone 4S send and receive data from the BLE112 in just 30mins. The time is for making the preparations, not the latency as the cheeky ones might point out ;)

Updated 2012-10-01: Updated with better information regarding Insight-SiP based on comments


  1. Hello,

    I am the senior sales of InsightSiP concerning Bluetooth Smart module.

    >>The Insight SIP did not provide any information
    >> regarding the Bluetooth nor regulatory

    This is easy to say when you had never contacted us.

    InsightSiP is not a module maker. InsightSiP is a RadioFrequency design services company only. We sell the design of our modules under licensing.
    -The software is managed by our customers.
    -Our customers manage the certification of their modules with our support.
    - The ISP091201 Bluetooth Smart module is already in production in Asia (Taïwan and Japan) at our customers's facilities.
    - The modules that we have designed are already certified for the Asian markets. The FCC/IC and Europe are coming soon.

    Another point that you did not say is that the TI chip used in the is consuming 2 to 3 times more power than the Nordic chip.

    My best regards,


  2. I guess we should have been more clear that "The Insight SIP website did not provide" in the first place. I've now updated the wording in the article and clarified it based on your comments.

    Would you be interested in a more in-depth article regarding InsightSIP and experiences with Bluetooth Smart? You can e-mail me at

  3. Thank you for this highly informative post!

  4. Great post! Thanks. We built a BT 4.0 app for the iPhone called 'LightBlue', that you can use to scan and connect to any devices. It can also act as a Peripheral, making your iPhone simulate your hardware. Check it out here if you're interested:

  5. great post. Another few point to add about InsightSiP's ISP091201 module:
    *This is a slave only module.
    *I was not able to find a distributor in the US, but found one in Germany.
    *the cost of the module is 23.5 Euro (which is quiet expensive compare to the competition)

  6. Hi thanks for the post!
    I'm starting with BLE and this is helpful.

    Here are more data for InsightSiP' ISP091201 module:
    1. It is a slave module only. This is clearly stated in the doc and got the confirmation from InsightSip.
    2. There are no distributor (that I found) in US. The closer was Germany and the module is expensive: 23.50 Euro..