The Market for Bluetooth 5.1 SoCs Heats Up as Goodix Enters the ArenaMarch 24, 2020 by John Koon
How does the new transceiver hold up against forerunners from Nordic Semiconductor and Dialog Semiconductor?
Back in 2017, AAC contributor Tim Youngblood debriefed us on the then-current state of SoCs for Bluetooth 5. But now, with updated Bluetooth protocols and more demanding IoT devices, we'd like to revisit the topic with a fresh look at Bluetooth 5.1 SoCs gaining traction.
Bluetooth 5.1 Is Here
Bluetooth technology has been used in many different applications including wearables, mobile devices, medical devices, and the Internet of Things in general.
In 2016, Bluetooth 5.0 was introduced, with data rates capable of 2 megabits per second (Mbps) within a maximum range of 800 feet, a significant improvement over the previous version. Majeed Ahmad's article on the progression of Bluetooth low energy SoCs covers a more comprehensive sketch of pre-Bluetooth 5.1 SoCs.
In 2018 Bluetooth 5.1 was launched to add direction sensing using two different methods. According to Silicon Labs, the angle of arrival (AoA) and angle of departure (AoD), sense the position of the device.
Diagram of the angle of arrival (left) and the angle of departure (right). Image used courtesy of Silicon Labs
Goodix Introduces a New Bluetooth 5.1 SoC
New Bluetooth 5.1 system-on-chips (SoC) are now coming to the market. Goodix Technology, a semiconductor design company, is among the first to offer the 5.1 SoC.
Licensing the CEVA's RivieraWaves Bluetooth low energy IP, the company launched the GR551x series, a Bluetooth 5.1 transceiver that integrates the host and controller layers. CEVA claims that it has spent twenty years in fine-tuning the IP to optimize size, power, and interoperability. It is currently licensed by many SoC makers.
The GR551x is based on the Arm Cortex-M4F, a 32-bit microprocessor with floating point support and capable of 64 MHz at 25 µA/MHz. It supports 256 KB RAM (8 Mbit Flash) and comes in the 6 mm x 6 mm 48L QFN or 5.3 mm x 5.3 mm 68L BGA package. Its transmit and receive current is 3.05 mA at 0 dBm and 1 Mbps and 3.9 mA at 1 Mbps, respectively, with –97 dBm sensitivity (in 1 Mbps mode).
System block diagram of GR551x. Image used courtesy of Goodix Technology
Its power management includes on-chip DC-DC functions. This enables the chip to accept a supply voltage from 1.7 V to 4.35 V without the need of an external DC-DC voltage regulator. Additionally, it would be able to provide an output voltage from 1.8 V to 3.6 V to drive peripheral I/O. Its deep sleep mode draws only 0.8 µA with light sleep mode (1 µA) to support memory retention and Bluetooth LE event wakeup.
Its security engine includes AES, HMAC, PKC, and TRNG.
One of its unique features is the long list of peripherals/I/O it supports. They include two of QSPI, SPI, I2C, I2S, UART, up to 39 multiplexed GPIO pins, and others.
How Does Goodix’s New SoC Stack Up?
Goodix isn't the only one in this space innovating Bluetooth 5.1 SoCs, though.
Nordic Semiconductor also offers many Bluetooth SoCs, including its Bluetooth 5.1 SoC, the nRF52811, which is also based on the Arm Cortex M4. It comes with one more package offering of 2.5 mm x 2.5 mm wafer-level CSP32 with 15 GPIOs. This gives those who need a smaller footprint an alternative.
The nRF52811. Image used courtesy of Nordic Semiconductor
Goodix is more efficient than Nordic Semiconductor in power consumption: 3.06 mA vs. 4.6 mA ( transmission) and 3.9 mA vs. 4.6 mA (receive), which translates to longer battery life. Goodix’s GR551x also has slightly better reception (-97 dBm vs. -96 dBm).
Dialog Semiconductor's Bluetooth 5.1 SoC, the "SmartBond TINY" DA14531, is based on the 16 MHz, 32-bit, Arm Cortex M0+, which supports less memory and I/O. It comes in a much smaller package of WLCSP 17 (1.7 mm x 2 mm).
Diagram of DA14531. Image used courtesy of Dialog Semiconductor
Even with a slower processor (16 MHz vs. 64 MHz), the DA14531 still consumes more power than Goodix’s GR551x in the transmission mode (3.5 mA vs. 3.05 mA). Goodix’s GR551x also has better reception (-97 dBm vs. -94dBm).
Overall, Goodix’s GR551x is comparable with the Nordic’s nRF52811 in many ways and has better performance than Dialog Semiconductor's DA14531, which uses a slower processor. The GR551x has slightly better reception but wins in low-power consumption—an important feature in wearable technology and many consumer devices.
If you are considering a Bluetooth low energy (BLE) 5.1 SoC, Goodix may be worth looking into.
If you work with Bluetooth 5.1-compatible devices, what has been your experience transitioning from Bluetooth 5 to Bluetooth 5.1? Share your thoughts in the comments below.