I recently bought a WiFi adapter for my Raspberry Pi for about 8 USD. At the same time, WiFi modules for Arduino and similar microcontroller boards cost several times as much.

What is fundamentally different between a USB WiFi module and one sold as a peripheral to micocontrollers? Is it just the economics of high-volume/low-cost, or something fundamentally different in the hardware?

(I've heard about the TI CC3000 WiFi chip that is supposed to be under $10, but I haven't found any place that sells just the chip.)

  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Market volume share. \$\endgroup\$
    – jippie
    Jun 25, 2013 at 7:10
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Here are some shopping links for the TI CC3000. However it looks like this isn't a complete module, you'd be missing the antenna - and with antenna is somewhat more expensive than $10. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17592
    Jun 25, 2013 at 7:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is your WiFI adaptor for your Rasberry Pi type approved by FCC for resale? That's something that also is used to distinguish cost. \$\endgroup\$
    – user6972
    Jun 25, 2013 at 19:49

1 Answer 1


That is because they are not the same. Arduino/Launchpad/Hobbyist target boards are aimed at small microcontroller sales, which does not have a lot of volume, so price breaks are minimal. And microcontrollers often need more memory than is available for some of the things. A mass produced device can narrowly tailor it's processor to the task at hand.

But one of the biggest things, is that the wifi (or ethernet) chips aimed at hobbyists is that they incorporate more than just the communication protocol. Some also handle the tcp/ip stack, which is very memory intensive and hard to code. Some allow for simple serial (uart or spi or i2c) communication between the microcontroller and the wifi chip, while it does the rest. You are paying for added value.

And finally, most of the time, hobbyists are buying completed boards, not raw chips. Some of these wifi chips, like the TI CC3000 require reflowing, because they have pins underneath or bga packages. They are not easily hand soldered.


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