Bluetooth 5 Ready IP for IoT SoC Integration

By: Ron Lowman, Technical Marketing Manager, Synopsys

The Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) was formed in 1998 to define the Bluetooth standard. Since its formation, Bluetooth has transformed into a robust interoperable wireless standard that enables the Internet of Things (IoT). The newly released Bluetooth 5 specification continues that revolution. There are many wireless standards including ZigBee, wirelessHART, Z-Wave, WiSun and more, that have served niche applications such as smart homes, remote controls, building automation, and metering. Due to the different needs of each application, the industry is having difficulty finding interoperability between the Internet of Things devices among the fragmented set of standards and options available. The adoption of Bluetooth by the mobile phone has positioned it as a leading candidate to solve interoperability hurdles via a melting pot of different solutions that all include Bluetooth. Today, the use of Bluetooth has grown beyond traditional applications and into audio, wearable, and other small portable device and toy applications.

The evolution of Bluetooth-enabled devices began about seven years ago with the mobile phone (2000), keyboard-mouse combo (2002), stereo headphone (2004), and smartwatch (2006). As Bluetooth-enabled IoT devices became smarter and more sophisticated, they needed to be more power efficient, which prompted the SIG and its members to introduce the Bluetooth low energy standard. Soon thereafter, in 2012, Apple introduced the iPhone 4S with Bluetooth low energy, which all other brands also started supporting. The Bluetooth low energy standard continued to evolve with the introduction of version 4.2, which added features specific to security and speed.

In 2016, the SIG addressed the key requirements of simple and secure wireless connectivity by introducing Bluetooth 5, which according to the June 2016 Bluetooth SIG news release, “quadruples range, doubles speed, increases data broadcasting capacity by 800%.” The evolution of Bluetooth to Bluetooth 5 continues to build momentum and “will deliver robust, reliable Internet of Things (IoT) connections” that make wearables and now smart homes a reality. This article describes the benefits of using Bluetooth 5 ready IP for easy IoT SoC integration. 

Bluetooth 5

Bluetooth 5 builds upon the success of Bluetooth-enabled audio, wearable, and other small portable devices. Bluetooth 5 expands into smart home applications, extends beacon capabilities, and opens the door to many other new and feature-rich applications requiring wireless technology. According to Mark Power, executive director of the Bluetooth SIG, in a 2016 news release, “Increasing operation range will enable connections to IoT devices that extend far beyond the walls of a typical home, while increasing speed supports faster data transfers and software updates for devices.” Other key features like adaptive frequency hopping, paves the way for operation in densified wireless installations anticipated with the development of future IoT solutions, including 5G. Table 1 outlines some of the key features of Bluetooth 5:

  • Data rates from 1Mbps to 2Mbps with more flexible methods to optimize power consumption 
  • Longer range via larger link budget and supporting up to 20 decibel-milliwatts (dBM) where local law allows                                                                                                                                        
  • Higher permission-based advertising transmission to deliver Bluetooth messages to Bluetooth-enabled devices, especially beacons                                                                                 
  • Adaptive Frequency Hopping (AFH) based on channel selection algorithm to improve connectivity performance in environments where other wireless technologies are in use      
  • Limited high duty cycle non-connectable advertising using intervals of less than 100ms for limited periods of time re-connectivity to improve user experience and battery life with faster connections         
  • Slot availability masks to detect and prevent other wireless band interferences   

Bluetooth Applications

Bluetooth low energy has become the de facto standard for IoT wearables, and now millions of Bluetooth-enabled beacons are inundating the market. Smart home applications such as smart plugs, door locks, and various other applications are also benefiting from Bluetooth features. Figure 1 illustrates the different wireless technology requirements across a variety of IoT applications. With longer range capabilities, faster speeds, and a market that is now introducing and supporting hubs and routers with Bluetooth, the opportunity for expansion into the smart home applications looks very promising.

Figure 1: Wireless technology requirements across IoT applications

Figure 1: Wireless technology requirements across IoT applications

Portable health devices have long supported Bluetooth as a connection to phones or other medical devices. Now, with longer range capabilities, there are design opportunities for using Bluetooth in implantable devices.

Bluetooth 5 will include follow up releases including setting the stage to enable Bluetooth low energy with audio according to WiFore CTO Nick Hunn in an October 2016 blog. This should enable very effective voice and audio applications using a power-efficient technology that extends portable device battery life from hours to days. 

Advantages of Bluetooth IC Integration

Traditionally, Bluetooth has been implemented in systems via combo chipsets that include WiFi and other wireless technologies. While a vast number of implementations are dual mode (low energy and classic) combo wireless chipsets, solutions only supporting the Bluetooth low energy specification are rapidly moving to be fully integrated into a single monolithic system to take full advantage of power consumption, process node alignment and higher performance. As an example, MCUs are now adopting Bluetooth low energy IP into their chipsets. There is a clear trend that Bluetooth low energy will continue to penetrate MCU solutions as a de facto standard feature, similar to USB 2.0. Specifically, process nodes such as ultra-low power 55-nm and 40-nm processes play a critical role in the ability to integrate Bluetooth.

The Bluetooth low energy specification and newly introduced Bluetooth 5 are expected to penetrate, share, and enhance markets for the 802.15.4 wireless standard, cellular IoT, and other similar solutions. For this reason, a new trend to develop multi-protocol chipsets that include Bluetooth low energy with other niche low power wireless solutions is fast developing. As a result, end applications can leverage the advantages and legacy of other wireless technologies while benefiting from the new Bluetooth low energy features and interoperability.

There are several reasons for wireless integration into a single SoC, including low power, cost, area and latency. Beyond power efficiency and latency improvements, wireless integration enables the removal of complete chipsets, reducing packaging costs and the required additional pads and power management IP. This can save more than $0.15 in packaging costs and 20-30 extra pads on the SoC designs that are required to support the additional wireless network processor. These savings, in conjunction with removing duplications of power management and a reduced PCB footprint, make the total system cost savings very attractive.

DesignWare Bluetooth Low Energy IP

Wireless integration into a single SoC requires power-, performance-, and area-optimized IP. Synopsys offers a wide range of wireless and analog IP options for WiFi, LTE, 5G, 802.15.4 and Bluetooth technologies with optimized analog front-ends, data converters and a complete Bluetooth low energy IP solution with Bluetooth 5 ready PHYs and Link Layer. Synopsys enables further wireless optimization through its offering of DesignWare ARC® processors with the key ability to tightly couple peripherals such as Bluetooth low energy IP, lowering gate count, power consumption, and system latency.

The DesignWare Bluetooth Low Energy Link Layer IP enables secure wireless connections with integrated data encryption and true random number generation. The Link Layer allows up to eight simultaneous connections in a single instantiation, and offers validated interoperability with third-party software stacks and processors. The DesignWare Bluetooth Low Energy PHY IP operates at a sub-one-volt supply for extended battery life and includes integrated LDOs, DC-DC PMU, on-chip transceiver matching network and single pin-to-antenna interface to reduce bill of materials (BoM) cost and simplify the system design and integration. The PHY is available in 55-nm and 40-nm process technologies, allowing designers to take advantage of advanced processes’ power, area and performance benefits.

Comprehensive validation is critical for designer success. The DesignWare Bluetooth Low Energy IP is qualified by the Bluetooth SIG and has gone through a rigorous validation process from a complete design verification flow to full characterization of power, voltage, temperature (PVT) corners and interoperability with the ecosystem.

The power, performance and cost advantages of wireless integration into a single IoT SoC is paramount and Synopsys has the expertise, silicon-proven IP and proven track record to help designers enable efficient wireless connectivity for IoT SoCs.