ESP8266 WiFi modules initially stormed the maker market for IoT applications thanks to their low price, and later it became the dominant WiFi IoT platform for hobbyists thanks to its large community of developers. But technology progresses over time, and it’s always fun to look out for new solutions, and Realtek RTL8710 could prove to be an interesting alternative with its ARM Cortex-M3 processor @ 166 MHz, a little more user memory (48KB), audio support, faster WiFi performance, while still keeping a low price, as modules can be purchased for $3.90 on ICS station, a little more on eBay, and as low as $1.95 per unit on Aliexpress including shipping if you purchase 100 pieces or more.
A Chinese website as a side-by-side comparison between Realtek RTL8710 and Espressif ESP8266, which I also found translated into English.
|Realtek RTL8710||Espresif ESP8266|
|Package||QFN-48 (6×6 mm)||QFN-32 (5×5 mm)|
|CPU||ARM Cortex M3 @ 166 MHz||Tensilica LX106 @ 80 / 160 MHz|
|RAM||48KB available to user||36KB available to user|
|Flash||1MB Built-in||1, 2, 4, 8 or 16 MB|
|WiFi||802.11n up to 150 Mbps, 802.11g up to 54 Mbps||802.11n up to 65 Mbps, 802.11g up to 54 Mbps|
|GPIO||Up to 21||Up to 17|
|I2C||Up to 3||Up to 1|
|PCM||Up to 2||None|
|PWM||Up to 4|
|UART||2x high-speed UART, 1x low-speed UART||Up to 2x UART|
|Power||Voltage: 3.0 to 3.6V; Current: 80 mA|
|Temperature range||-40 to 125 °C|
|Standard certifications||FCC/CE/TELEC/SRRC/ WiFi Alliance||FCC/CE/TELEC/SRRC|
The processor is said to run FreeRTOS operating systems, which happens to be the one also used in Espressif ESP8266 and ESP32 SDKs. Boantong also provides a development board integrating their RTL-00 module with PCB antenna for $14 + shipping.
Debugging and programming can be done through the micro USB port using CMSIS DAP or JLINK. I’ve not been able to find RTL8710 SDK yet, but there does seem to be a dedicated support forum (in Chinese only).
So at this stage RTL8710 is clearly not for everyone yet, but if you are interested in using or evaluating RTL8710 modules in commercial projects, you may want to check out “Boantong IoT Business Department“.