Ultra-low power communications

Paul Boughton

Imagination Technologies has announced the first members of its Ensigma Whisper flexible connectivity IP family, designed specifically to enable the integration of ultra-low power communications in SoCs targeting wearables, IoT and other connected devices that require extended battery life and low cost points.

With the new Ensigma Whisper radio processing units (RPUs), designers can choose to integrate Wi-Fi 802.11n, Bluetooth Smart, or a combination of the two standards, depending on the specific application.

The new Whisper RPUs are based on the ultra-low power Ensigma Whisper Series5 architecture and complement the Ensigma Explorer RPU family, which is focused on enabling high-performance on-chip communications. With built-in processors and a high level of configurability, Ensigma RPUs are highly flexible and ideal for supporting multiple standards.

Redesigning mobile or other existing connectivity chips or IP won’t work for wearables and other ultra-low power IoT devices, says Imagination.

Connectivity IP must be built from the ground up for these new applications, with a focus on low power consumption and compact area.

The new Whisper IP cores are configurable engines that are purpose-built for integration onto next-generation SoCs targeting IoT and other applications including smartwatches, home automation, healthcare, automotive, industrial and beyond.

“In today’s connected devices, we see a clear move away from using separate wireless combo chips toward integrating connectivity onto the main application processor as companies look to reduce power, footprint and bill-of-materials,” said Takeshi Niwa, assistant director at TSR (Techno Systems Research). “We are seeing this move first in smartphones, where we believe 70% of devices will have connectivity integrated in the application processor by 2018. As wearable and IoT devices become mainstream, we believe the same trend will occur.”

To further accelerate customers’ time to market, Ensigma Whisper RPUs are provided as a complete communications solution including certifications. In addition, a range of customisable RF and analog front-ends are available from Imagination and partners if needed.

Imagination is initially offering the Whisper RPUs in three versions:

C5400: Wi-Fi 802.11n IP for low-power devices capable of audio/video streaming; enables customers to achieve Wi-Fi connectivity at the power levels of Bluetooth Classic while delivering better performance per MHz;

C5300: Bluetooth Smart IP for ultra-low power, short range connectivity providing control functionality in devices including sensor hubs, wearables and home automation;

C5401: For applications such as wearables, this IP combines Bluetooth Smart for control applications and Wi-Fi 802.11n for streaming; capable of operating concurrently. 

“There are two trends that will better enable wireless connectivity for the Internet of Things,” said Philip Solis, research director at ABI Research. “One, of course, is integration of wireless connectivity basebands into the host processor. The other is the scaling down of designs to reduce cost, size, and most importantly power consumption. In the wireless connectivity space, where multiple connectivity standards are here to stay, this includes creating unique designs that take full advantage of the low-power connectivity requirements of wearables and IoT devices to significantly increase battery life.”

The Whisper RPUs use highly optimised, configurable hardware along with software that optimises both static and dynamic power consumption in the cores.

The design of the Whisper architecture, with its tightly coupled modem/MIPS processor, enables the best connected standby power compared to other connectivity solutions, by enabling IoT and wearable devices to awaken more quickly and consume less power in the wake-up process.

The tightly-coupled modem/processor in Ensigma Whisper RPUs means that for sensor applications, customers can choose to eliminate the host processor or alleviate its load, leading to the smallest embedded system size and lowest power consumption.

Whisper licensees can also use Imagination’s FlowCloud IoT device-to-cloud technology, which connects devices to the internet and each other, enabling easy product registration and updates as well as access to a growing portfolio of services from Imagination and its partners.