Whenever I talk about Imagination Technologies, my colleagues in the industry almost always identify us with PowerVR and MIPS – two of the biggest brands in the GPU and CPU space, respectively.

However, Imagination is starting to make a name for itself in the wireless market courtesy of Ensigma, our powerful connectivity technology.

One of the main characteristics of Ensigma is its ability to support a variety of wireless standards, including 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, classic and low power Bluetooth, digital TV and radio broadcast, Cat 0 LTE and others.

Ensigma RPU: 802.11ac 802.11ax 802.11ah 802.15.4 Bluetooth

Our multi-standard approach reflects a bigger trend making an impact in the wireless market: heterogeneous connectivity. This is particularly true when it comes to the next generation of wireless standards such as 5G where we’re going to see a combination of standards being used to achieve true always-on connectivity.

What is heterogeneous connectivity?

When people talk about 5G, the first thing that everybody says is: it’s going to be another cellular standard. This is mainly because one of the key drivers for 5G is the 3GPP foundation, a project uniting multiple cellular organizations.

However, I’m not convinced 5G will be a cellular-only standard for a number of reasons. The first reason is that when you look at the initial specification, there are 29 candidate spectrums band being considered for 5G. Some of these are existing bands that are being deployed today – 900 MHz and 1800 MHz are the most obvious examples; others are the newer bands starting to appear e.g. 700 MHz and 600 MHz. Finally, some bands are using the unlicensed part of the spectrum. One example is release 13 of the 4G standard which targets the LTE space using 5 GHz, called LTE-AA.

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In an unsurprising twist, several companies are also looking at millimetre wave (above 18 GHz and particularly 60 GHz unlicensed spectrum)). Also, I’ve seen some testing of 5G field trials at 29 gigahertz which is also millimetre waves.

So at this point, we’re not sure if you can actually have one specification or one standard that actually does everything from 600 MHz all the way up to 63 GHz – and everything in between.

What is cognitive connectivity?

If you want one quick example to illustrate the meaning of cognitive connectivity, look no further than the FCC and their decision to consider allowing providers to share the 3.5 to 3.7 GHz portion of the spectrum. This is a similar approach to the TV white space regulations introduced some time ago.

Cognitive devices looking to share the spectrum need to know their location, and have access to a database of spectrum information. That database will tell devices what channels they can operate on and what power they can use.

These two requirements (location awareness and database access) essentially define the cognitive approach to connectivity.

If we start applying these principles to next generation systems, we find there is a range of channels and spectrum that’s potentially available. When a mobile phone switches on its wireless capabilities, it potentially has 29 bits of spectrum to look at so it needs to start being able to think intelligently.

By using GPS or other means of location awareness, the mobile device will determine which part of spectrum it needs to search for to get a signal. For example, if you were traveling from America to Europe or Asia, the phone could be getting its signal from very different bits of spectrum.

The device also needs to have some knowledge of what potentially could co-exist in that part of the spectrum. If it is looking at the available 5 GHz bands, it could either use high-speed Wi-Fi or some type of cellular connectivity. If it was in 2.4 GHz range, it could choose low-power Wi-Fi or even Bluetooth. For 915 MHz, it could be an 802.15.4-based technology (e.g. 6LoWPAN).

This doesn’t necessarily mean that the best wireless service will be the one that gives the fastest speed. With 5G, one of the things that we need to start thinking about is the capacity of the network.

Effectively, what people want is something that helps them achieve a certain task on their phone, or their laptop, or their tablet, or whatever other mobile or embedded device they use; whether they’re in the middle of London or if they’re in the middle of a national park in North America.

If they’re trying to do email, they want the email to work quickly. If they want to stream video, they expect a smooth user experience. That means that the network has to start making much more intelligent decisions, because many users will have very different requirements.

For example, if a set of users is only doing text-based email, they theoretically don’t need to have access to high-bandwidth technologies. For video, the network must give them access to the latest high-speed cellular connection because nothing can beat that in speed.

We are now seeing some of this already happening with 4G where some of the carriers in the US and in the UK are starting to offer Wi-Fi voice calling. If you’re in a situation where you can’t get cellular, and there’s Wi-Fi, you can actually still make the phone call using Wi-Fi.

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In the future, this range of cognitive connectivity applications is only going to get even wider – and it’s all thanks to the IoT market.

At the end of the day, whether there’s a small IoT sensor or a high-performance mobile device, Imagination has made the investments in Ensigma to ensure that it provides the scalable solutions that meet all of those different markets.

About the author: Richard Edgar

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Richard Edgar is Director of Communications Technology for Imagination Technologies. Richard has worked in the Wi-Fi industry for far too long at various semiconductor and equipment manufacturers developing various short-range wireless solutions. Richard represents Imagination in various industry bodies for short range wireless technologies. When not obsessing about wireless technologies, Richard enjoys church bell ringing, archery and shouting at his children.

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