Semiconductor IP News and Trends Blog
Radios Reap Benefits of Ultra-Low Power and Digitalization
Wireless intellectual property from Imec, Renesas, and Silicon Labs is making headlines for advances in ultra-low-power and fully digitized radios.
Recently, Renesas joined Imec’s ultra-low-power (ULP) wireless-systems “Green Radio” program to enhance its short-range communication devices. This collaboration will develop multi-standard radio solutions for small battery-operated or harvested wireless-handheld devices. Aimed at the automotive and industrial markets, this technology combines clever architectures with low-power-design intellectual property (IP) to reduce power consumption by a factor of 3 to 10 compared to today’s radios. Imec’s ULP high-performance radios are compliant with wireless standards like Bluetooth Low Energy and ZigBee (both residing in the 2.4-GHz band). The market for ultra-low-power wireless communications is expected to grow with the rise of sensor networks in today’s prolific connection of embedded smart devices.
In related news, development of the elusive fully digital radio continues on many fronts. Recently, Silicon Labs laid claim to the industry’s first monolithic “digital radio on a chip,” providing a single-die antenna-input-to-audio-output digital-radio-receiver solution. Based upon existing software-defined-radio (SDR) technology, the monolithic receiver IC brings FM, HD radio, and DAB/DAB+ broadcast capabilities to a variety of audio applications.
Digital-radio technology enhances traditional AM/FM radio with data, such as program information, weather forecasts, news headlines, music artist and track names, and traffic information. To compete with traditional radio, however, the fully digital version must provide higher-performance audio sound with power-efficient RF technology. The former is achieved with improved intermediate-frequency (IF) downconverter-receiver IP architectures.
At the recent Globalpress Electronic Summit, Silicon Lab’s VP and GM, James Stansberry, explained the noise challenges in translating the receiver signal down to the baseband range. Readers may recall that IF downconversion issues have long plagued the modern wireless designer (see “RFICs Find Applications Everywhere“).
Others, most noticeably Intel, have recently claimed credit for the first fully operational wireless (Wi-Fi) digital radio.
The demand for continually lower-power and higher-performance RF chips will grow stronger in the coming world of wirelessly connected, embedded smart devices. IP that provides these two competing qualities will be in short supply.