In the next few years we will see billions of new devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) market. In addition to having a microprocessor and sensor solution each semiconductor IC device will need a connectivity solution. However picking the correct IP for each device is a complex process, as IP in this space is necessarily mixed signal; meaning it will inherit the complexities of both digital and RF IP.
I am broadly dividing IP into two categories: RF/analog IP and digital IP. Both contain unique integration and delivery challenges. Increasingly though, more of the IP used is mixed signal.
At a very high level, the main issue with IP is that the simulated environment is different from the final design environment. Analog and RF IP is dependent on process/node, foundry, layout, extraction, model fidelity, and placement. So you are either tied to just dropping it in ‘as is’ and treating it like a black box (nobody knows how it works and whether it meets the required specifications) or completely changing it (with the caveat that you can no longer expect the same results). In comparison, digital IP needs to be resynthesized followed by placement and routing, which takes several iterations to make the IP work as intended. This process is also extremely tool-dependent.
In the IoT market, IP integration is a big challenge as radio solutions require a transceiver, a baseband and a link layer controller – including blocks in RF, analog, purely digital and mixed signal domains. IP is no longer just IP blocks as we now have IP sub-systems and the only way to address integration effectively is to focus on the architectural level and offer all pieces of the connectivity puzzle. We are seeing fragmented solutions from IP providers, some providing the transceiver, and some the baseband/controller solutions, thus making integration difficult.
At ARM, we have architected a solution that can address the challenges for both the RF/analog and the digital IP market. ARM® Cordio® radio IP is a complete radio solution that has an integrated transceiver, baseband and the link layer controller. Our radio IP has a peripheral interconnect which is a standard AHB interface compatible with most microprocessor architectures to greatly simplify SoC integration.
Qualification IDs for the complete Cordio Solution can be found at the Bluetooth SIG Website: QDID: 80063, 80647, 81643
Another aspect of system integration is software availability – we provide firmware required for the radio as well as upper layer stacks and profiles. This along with the timing-independent interface to the host controller in all of our IP offerings enables easy implementation of the stack and application layers. We have also paid special attention to system level reset, timing and control.
In addition to addressing the ease of integration at a system and architectural level, ARM provides comprehensive information about integration and implementation with manuals, reference schematics, data sheets and applications notes on antenna selection, PCB layout, Bluetooth qualification, regulatory certifications and production test guidance to enable silicon partners with little or no prior RF experience to bring to market Bluetooth® low energy enabled SOCs in a timely, risk-free, and cost effective manner.
Companies and engineers can only keep up with the growth in computing needs available in the market by efficient IP re-use. The vendors that offer effective, complete solutions and ease integration pain points are the ones that will thrive. The future will provide huge opportunities for ARM and other IP vendors that provide comprehensive solutions that address the challenges presented with the growth of the IoT.
ARM’s Wireless business will be hosting various presentations at ARM TechCon in Santa Clara, California on 25-27 October. Make sure you put the following presentations in your diary to learn more about the future of 801.15.4 and Bluetooth low energy!
Presentation: 802.15.4 and BLE: Empowering new applications with ultra low power wireless, Tuesday, October 25, 4:30pm-5:20pm
Training session: Future-proof SoCs: How to add low power Radio IP to your SoC, Wednesday October 26, 2:30pm-5:30pm
Presentation: Looking ahead: BLE and 802.15.4 IoT low power standards, Thursday October 27, 11:30am-12:20pm.