ARM and Imagination Technologies are making separate moves to address the connectivity and power efficiency demands created by the burgeoning Internet of things.
ARM officials on April 16 said the chip designer is buying smaller firms Wicentric and Sunrise Micro Devices (SMD), and will leverage the work both companies have done with Bluetooth to create the ARM Cordio portfolio of low-power radio solutions.
ARM’s announcement came a day after Imagination unveiled its new family of Ensigma Whisper radio IP cores, which chip makers can use to bring low-power connectivity capabilities—such as 802.11n WiFi or Bluetooth Smart—to their products.
The new offerings—which Imagination officials call radio processing units, or RPUs—are designed to be small and power-efficient enough to fit with systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) that are aimed at Internet of things (IoT) devices and wearable computing technologies, according to Chakra Parvathaneni, vice president of Imagination’s Ensigma business operations.
The IoT and wearable markets are expected to grow rapidly over the coming years. Cisco Systems officials predict that the number of connected devices—from smartphones and tablets to cars, home appliances, industrial systems and medical devices—will grow from 25 billion last year to 50 billion by 2020. At the same time, IDC analysts last year said they expect the number of shipments of wearable devices will hit 19 million this year, and grow to 111.9 million units in 2018.
All that puts increasing emphasis on the need for broad connectivity capabilities, power efficiency and size of technologies that are going into the IoT and wearable devices. All factors play roles in how well the devices work, how affordable they are and how long their batteries can last.
For ARM, acquiring Wicentric gives it access to the company’s Bluetooth Smart software stack, while SMD brings with it Bluetooth radio blocks that run on less than 1 volt. ARM’s Cordio family will use these capabilities to offer low-power and low-voltage wireless solutions that SoC and device makers can use in their designs, and will complement the company’s growing IoT portfolio.
ARM has been aggressive in building out its IoT and wearable capabilities over the past couple of years. Most recently, the company in February bought Offspark, which makes security software for IoT devices and sensors, and later that month announced a partnership with IBM to create an IoT starter kit that features its mbed IoT operating system.
With its configurable Ensigma Whisper RPUs, Imagination also is aiming at low-power SoCs for wearable systems, IoT devices and other connected products that need long battery life and a compact size at a low cost.
ARM, Imagination Boost Connectivity Options for IoT, Wearables
The new RPU cores are built specifically for such devices, with flexibility in the connectivity standards that are supported. Customers can decide to integrate 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth Smart or a combination of both standards, according to Imagination’s Parvathaneni. Given the tens of billions of devices that make up the IoT, flexibility in the communications standards is important. The company later will add support for other protocols, such as 802.15.4, 802.11ah and LTE-CAT-0/1.
“You need multi-standard cores,” he told eWEEK.
According to Parvathaneni, the Ensigma Whisper RPU architecture also offers a unique design that enables improved standby power, due to the tightly coupled modem and MIPS processor. Parvathaneni said that chips in IoT devices tend to be in standby mode as much as 95 percent of the time, so Imagination engineers in developing the PowerGearing technology worked to optimize power efficiency during that time as well as periods of dynamic power consumption.
The tight coupling of the modem and MIPS processor also means that users can choose to get rid of the host processor or lessen the load on it, which helps in creating smaller systems and lowering power consumption.
The Whisper cores can work with the x86 architecture used by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices as well as ARM’s architecture, but they work best with Imagination’s own MIPS chips via the company’s Connected Processor IP Platform.
Imagination initially is rolling out three versions of Ensigma Whisper RPUs, including the C5400, which supports 802.11n WiFi for low-power devices used for audio and video streaming and enables customers to reach WiFi connectivity at Bluetooth Classic power levels while offering better performance-per-MHz.
The C5300 RPU includes Bluetooth Smart technology for such devices as sensor hubs, wearable technology and home automation systems, while the C5401—with a combination of 802.11n and Bluetooth Smart supports—is aimed at wearables.
The new RPUs can be licensed immediately. Imagination continues to expand its IoT capabilities. Most recently, the company earlier this year launched a low-power PowerVR GPU for IoT and wearable devices.