A Brief Guide to Bluetooth Low Energy IPs on the MarketMarch 05, 2020 by Robin Mitchell
Keep this guide in your back pocket for the next time you're designing a device that requires BLE connectivity.
IP is an acronym that is showing up in many semiconductor-related press releases, product announcements, and datasheets.
In fact, Imagination Technologies recently announced its latest BLE IP, the iEB110, which the company is calling a "complete Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) v5.2 solution."
With this new IP entering the BLE market, it may be useful to pinpoint the value of IPs and survey other BLE IPs designers should be aware of.
The Rise of IPs
IP stands for Intellectual Property. It essentially refers to a design that can be licensed out to suppliers.
According to Professor Rob A. Rutenbar from Carnegie Mellon, this leasing of designs allows fabless companies to produce state-of-the-art silicon designs without needing to invest in large production lines. It also enables semiconductor businesses to pick and combine elements together to produce SoCs.
Semiconductor IPs are especially useful for SoCs when a designer doesn't want to buy all the blocks on an SoC—just some of them. Image used courtesy of Rob A. Rutenbar
But the use of IP goes beyond CPU cores. With physical layer peripherals and radio communication circuits also going fabless, a manufacturer can combine multiple IP designs into a single package. For example, an Arm core can be combined with a Bluetooth IP module to produce an Arm SoC with Bluetooth capabilities.
Here are a few Bluetooth IPs to keep on your radar.
Imagination Technologies BLE IP
Let's start with the newest BLE IP, the iEB110. The iEB110 integrates RF circuitry, controller software, and the Bluetooth stack, allowing designers to create small form factor designs, such as in-ear Bluetooth earbuds and hearing aids.
This new IP includes features such as angle of arrival/angle of departure, which can be used for location tracking and tracking in the sub-1 m range. It also operates for long-range indoor and outdoor communication.
iEB110 BLE v5.2 IP. Image used courtesy of Imagination Technologies
While the iEB110 is an IP design, meaning that it is not a physical device, it is silicon-ready. This entails that the silicon layout for the device has already been developed, which reduces the time it takes for designers to integrate it into other existing silicon designs.
Here are some other notable features of the iEB110:
- Supports 2M PHY
- Supports multiple BLE connections
- Requires no external trimming
- Co-exists with Wi-Fi
- Uses a 1.76 mm2 die space that includes logic, memory, and RF components
- Includes a low gate count
The IP requires only a single pin RF antenna interface and it can also incorporate interrupt-driven messaging. The firmware for the BLE IP can be integrated into ROM to further reduce the power consumption.
Finally, the transmit power of the iEB110 is up to +6dBm and the sensitivity of the receiver ranges from -104 dBm at 125 Kbps to -9 6dBm at 2 Mbps.
NXP BLE IP
NXP also offers a low-power, multi-mode, front-end connectivity Bluetooth Low Energy IP that includes an RF transceiver, digital signal conditioning block, and a low-level radio controller.
While NXP doesn't provide some details of the IP, such as the silicon space it occupies, there are some details that tell us how it compares to the Imagination Technologies BLE IP. First, the NXP device is older and therefore supports up to Bluetooth 5 only. It also requires some external components, such as a capacitor.
Catena BLE 802.15.4 Front-End IP. Image used courtesy of NXP
The IP, like the iEB110, is able to support data rates up to 2 Mbps and long-range. It also features a single-ended RF pin.
The NXP IP includes some unique features worth noting. These include an "optimized frequency plan" for on-chip coexistence as well as compatibility with the Arm Cordio platform, which makes the creation of an SoC based on IP parts easier.
It is also "digital insensitive," meaning that it can auto-calibrate itself to improve robustness and flexibility.
VeriSilicon BLE IP
VeriSilicon is another example of a fabless company producing IP designs for use in SoCs and microcontrollers. Their BLE RF IP supports the BLE standards and integrates a BLE RF transceiver, digital modulator/demodulator, secure encryption, packet verification, and various LPC modes.
Again, not much information is provided on silicon space. However, we can make some deductions given the fact that the design is fully taped out onto a 55 nm CMOS and 22 nm FD-SOI processes. That 22 nm tips us off that it will be easily integrated into modern production techniques that require a smaller area.
VeriSilicon BLE RF IP. Image used courtesy of VeriSilicon
Because it is an established design, NXP asserts that it can be easily incorporated into a range of different fabrication technologies. The design also requires no other special mask layers nor does it require the use of MIM, HRP, and ESD devices.
The operating temperature of -40°C to +85°C allows it to operate in a wide range of environments, including industrial. The VeriSilicon device also has a greater transmission power output of +9 dBm and a typical RX sensitivity of 96 dBm.
CEVA and Synopsys Bluetooth IPs
The companies listed above are not the only ones involved with BLE IP technologies. Two other examples include those produced by CEVA and Synopsys. However, less technical information is available about these IPs (such as power consumption, silicon space, and power ratings).
CEVA RivieraWaves Bluetooth IP is a complete suite of embedded Bluetooth IPs and platforms that supports BLE 5.2 and dual-mode versions. The BLE IP includes a hardware baseband controller, a PHY, and a software stack.
RivieraWaves Bluetooth low energy IP. Image used courtesy of CEVA
Synopses, which offers IPs on multiple protocols including Bluetooth, Thread, and Zigbee, also provides a comparable Bluetooth Low Energy IP.
Synopsys’ DesignWare IP. Image used courtesy of Synopsys
Their BLE IP includes a Bluetooth 5.1 stack, PHY, link layer, MAC, and shared resources. The design is silicon-proven (meaning that it has been implemented and tested in the real-world), is Bluetooth-qualified and supports both Bluetooth 5.1 and mesh. It also combines Thread and Zigbee to reduce SoC-integration risks, which need to support multiple connection methods.
The Imagination Technologies iEB110 is a low energy solution that supports BLE v5.2, requires minimal external components, and can be readily integrated into SoC designs. Analogous IP products provide different features, such as larger transmission powers or compatibility with Arm systems. Choosing the right BLE IP for your SoC is a decision that cannot be taken lightly.
But one thing is for certain, the use of IPs will continue to grow as SoCs continue to integrate more components into a single package.