From Telit: "Embedded Modules vs. Standard Data Cards: Which is Right for Your First Responder Network Application?"

Jul 29, 2018

When you’re designing a device for the FirstNet market, you have some important choices to make to address design and functionality constraints of your end-product. Cellular modules are electronic components packing the functionality of a complete cellular voice and data modem in less than a fraction of a square inch. They enable machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and provide a simple, cost-effective way to add connectivity to your public safety device.

Since cellular radio technology is relatively new to mission critical communications for first responders, who have up until recently relied solely on private radio systems, it is important to understand some key criteria for selecting the right module to ensure your application’s success. One such decision has to do with the packaging of the module.

There are essentially two types to pick from that are in the certification pipeline to become FirstNet compliant – data cards and embedded modules. But how do you determine which option is right for your application?

Data Cards

Packaged in a standard IT industry card formfactor (mPCIe), these modules adhere to strict dimensions and have one of the ends of its printed circuit board terminated with a series of contacts which mate with a connector typically mounted on the main board of the host device that will use the FirstNet cellular communication. This card can be inserted into an EMS handheld computer, a vehicular network router inside a fire truck, or other device.

Essentially, standard data cards work the same way a USB drive does—just plug it in and go. A major advantage of these modules is that they are easy to connect to existing hardware and, other than making the proper software adjustments, there’s no need to design your product specifically to accommodate them. They also deliver high data speeds, ranking them as higher category LTE devices and making them ideal for public safety routers and gateways.

It makes sense to choose a standard mPCIe data card if you want to get to market quickly and already have a device that accommodates the specific type of card you are considering. The versatility of standard connections means you can easily leverage design you already have—for example, if you already have a vehicular router for general commercial use and want to create a variant for the FirstNet market.

Embedded Modules 

A small square about the size of a stamp and slightly thicker than a credit card, the embedded module is designed to connect with a device’s mainboard via a grid of solder pads – the most popular is the land-grid array, simply known as LGA. To use it successfully, you’ll need to start with the specific module’s technical documentation and design your product’s board to meet up with the LGA pattern to create the electronic pathways.

While the process of designing your product to fit this type of module is more time consuming, the embedded option offers a number of advantages for FirstNet devices. Embedded module electrical connections are solid and immovable, resilient to vibration, heat, corrosion, and dust. Since first responders often face rugged environments and temperatures, special consideration should be given to determine if it makes sense to choose embedded modules – for example, for body cams and other wearable devices that will more likely be subject to shock, tumbles and vibrations. The ruggedness of these modules also makes them a perfect choice for on-board cellular devices mounted inside emergency vehicles that are often subject to bumpy roads and extreme temperatures.

Typically, devices integrated with embedded modules result in a smaller footprint and dimensions compared to similar devices based on data cards. Embedded modules are also the lowest cost solution in LTE Category 1, making them ideal for end devices such as sensors and tracking devices.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a FirstNet Module or Data Card

Before making a decision, consider the following questions:

  • How important is the size of the end-product?
  • Will the device operate indoors or outdoors?
  • How does the cost of the rest of the device compare with the cost of the FirstNet module?
  • How rugged does the end-product need to be?
  • What data speed is needed?

The answers to these questions will help guide you in choosing the right module or data card for your FirstNet device. Additionally, you can work with an experienced IoT partner to offer advice and guidance on choosing the right module for your project.





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