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Synopsys is now shipping support for Bluetooth® 5.4, the latest specification from the Bluetooth SIG (Special Interest Group). The enhancements in Bluetooth 5.4 will open additional markets and use cases. This is one of the many inflection points in the Bluetooth Low Energy market that will be discussed in this paper.
One thing I have learned over my entire career in delivering multiple wireless products is that the world never stands still. Continued advancements in silicon technology, enhancements to the various wireless standards and the continuous leapfrogging of the technology providers drives us all to constantly re-evaluate how and who we select for technology sourcing.
These technology sourcing decisions can be traced back to inflection points that occur in the market or to technology advancements and enhancements. This article will specifically focus on Bluetooth Low Energy (*) or “BLE” by examining the following 3 types of inflection points in the BLE market:
(*) Originally BLE was branded as “Bluetooth Smart” but use of this name has all but disappeared.
Historically, a new Bluetooth specification has been released about every 1.5 to 2 years, with each specification release usually containing three to four new enhancements. These features may range from minor improvements to major step functions driving significant growth opportunities or “inflection points.” Let’s look at the more significant changes in Bluetooth specifications:
2010- Bluetooth 4.0: This was the most significant change since Bluetooth inception back in 1998. This added what we now call Bluetooth Low Energy, a totally different protocol than the original Bluetooth Classic. BLE was fundamentally designed around the use of 3-volt coin batteries to power IoT devices and sensors. BLE has been so well adopted that the last specification update to older Bluetooth Classic was made back in 2014 in the BT4.2 release. All enhancements to the Bluetooth specification added since then have been made specifically for Bluetooth Low Energy.
2016- Bluetooth 5.0: This consisted of three enhancements, the most significant being the addition of a 2Mbps mode (formally limited to 1Mbps) and Long-Range modes (up to 4x the range) enabled by “Coded PHYs” via the use of forward error correction.
2020- Bluetooth 5.2: This was coined as a “game changer” as it added LE audio (audio over BLE) which previously was only supported by the older, point-to-point Bluetooth Classic protocol. This provided significant power savings for BLE audio devices such as headphone and ear buds, increased audio quality, and enabled “broadcast” audio (one-to-many) which the BT SIG has recently branded as Auracast™.
2023 – Bluetooth 5.4: This consisted of four enhancements, with the most notable being Periodic Advertising with Responses (PAwR) and to a lesser degree Encrypted Advertising Data (EAD). These features were primarily driven by Electronic Shelf Labeling or ESL. I consider this as an inflection point compared to other specifications because this is creating an entirely new market for BLE as the ESL vendors move from propriety wireless protocols to standardizing on BLE. There are several other applications for PAwR, which some are calling the new BLE Mesh since the original BT5.1 Mesh specification from back in 2017 hasn’t seen a significant adoption rate. There are also uses for PAwR in automotive applications such as e-vehicle Battery Management Systems (BMS) and Tire Pressuring Monitoring Systems (TPMS) that will be built into the actual tire itself.
So what are the next inflection points for Bluetooth Low Energy? We look forward to three significant enhancement that are currently being defined in the working groups.
The last section of the paper will discuss how these upcoming enhancements will change the complexion of Bluetooth sourcing decisions.
Every silicon vendor is challenged with the decision to either design various functional blocks of their SoC in-house or license existing design blocks of “IP” (Intellectual property) from 3rd party suppliers. Most all silicon vendors license several IP blocks to build their SoC. This includes CPU cores, interconnect systems, memory controllers, security elements, and a variety of wired interfaces. Why should BLE be any different?
When it comes to Bluetooth IP, we have seen a significant uptake in the last couple of years from silicon vendors making the decision to license already proven BLE solutions vs. expending their expensive internal engineering resources to design it in-house. This is yet another inflection point in delivering BLE devices to market.
Synopsys has BLE design wins for our RFPHY (radio) and Link Layer Controller from several tier 1 silicon vendors who have been in the BLE business for several years. Why is that?
The are several factors driving the trend to “buy” or license BLE IP.
Whatever the reasons or criteria you might have for doing a ”Make vs Buy” analysis it is certain that there has been a recent inflection point in sourcing BLE solutions by shifting to licensing from 3rd party IP solutions.
Figure 2: Bluetooth Low Energy Stack
Figure 3: Bluetooth Specification Timeline