Following our launch of Enisgma UCCP330  and the recent announcement of a license agreement with Qualcomm for certain IP from our Ensigma broadcast, communications and connectivity family, it’s now becoming clear that the importance of Radio Processing Units (RPUs) in the context of SoC evolution is growing rapidly as the concept RF integration is bound to become the next disruptive trend in the consumer electronics market.

Radio Processing Units (RPUs): an introduction

A Radio Processing Unit (RPU) is a relatively new notion but we believe it has the potential to bring a new wave of innovation in the SoC world. Fundamentally, the RPU is a highly programmable communication processor that supports a broad range of global connectivity and broadcast receiver standards including digital radio and TV as well as Bluetooth and 802.11 a/b/g/n wireless specifications.

Ensigma RPU - flexible system level connectivity

For years, including the RF component on the system-on-chip has been a hot topic among SoC integration and design engineers. For a while, it seemed to be the greatest challenge that R&D departments everywhere had to address moving forward.

The generally acknowledged problem laid in the incompatibility of process technology: with CPUs quickly moving towards smaller process nodes, it seemed as though RF chips could never keep up. On top of this, there were various issues around the actual circuit design, physical implementation and manufacturing due to voltage differences, inductors and interference due to noisy RF circuits.

Ensigma RPU - typical SoC architecture

However, this all sounded familiar to Imagination who had to overcome similar problems when it initiated something unheard of some time ago: integrating the graphics and video processing units on the same chip together with the CPU. We were pioneers in this area, as our PowerVR graphics IP cores were one of the first solutions to be included in what came to be known as today’s modern mobile SoC platforms.

This led to not just obvious performance improvements but also smaller, slimmer form factors that had devices competing in a race for the coveted “world’s thinnest”. By incorporating the RPU into the SoC, we believe we can achieve the same thing for the next-generation devices such as digital TVs, set-top boxes, in-car communication systems or mobile phones and tablets by enabling a combination of world TV, world radio and complete connectivity in all of the above.

Ensigma communications platforms

The Ensigma UCCP330 RPU is the latest version of our family of communications IP platforms. It delivers on three key aspects of any future home entertainment solution:

–          the most extensive list of global digital TV standards support, including ATSC (8VSB), QAM (J.83B), DVB-T, DVB-T2, DVB-S, DVB-S2, DVB-C, ISDB-T, ISDB-C, ISDB-S, SBTVD, CTTB, and mobile TV standards including DVB-H, T-DMB, 1-seg ISDB-T

–          full global digital radio capabilities, including DAB, DAB+, DMB-R and FM with RDS, ISDB-Tmm, ISDB-Tsb and HD Radio Technology

–          802.11a/b/g/n (including Wi-Fi Direct) and Bluetooth connectivity

This complete package provides a fully-programmable baseband processor that can suit all radio, TV and connectivity applications. We’ve also aimed to make the hardware as configurable as possible. Imagination has uniquely designed its IP so that a general multimedia platform can be deployed in markets that use different standards without having to redesign the whole system from scratch. As North America has chosen ATSC for digital broadcast, while Europe and parts of Asia have adopted DVB-T, a reprogramming of the appropriate software is all that is needed to instantly start shipping Ensigma-powered products to any given area in no time.

RPU - Ensigma architecture

And the good news is that this occupies the equivalent or, in some cases, even less silicon area compared to the traditional solution of hard-wiring a single standard unit to your SoC and over-complicating your design by causing potential layout issues due to unwanted RF interference.

Therefore, the Ensigma Series3 RPU family is no longer just a multi-standard communications solution but becomes the answer to the need for SoCs to incorporate more and more functionality as system designs focus on consuming less power without any compromises in features, performance and connectivity options.

We can offer a family of RPUs that is not just leading the industry in performance, but also has proven to be a viable solution in multiple markets, shipping in impressive volumes with the Toumaz TZ1090 “Xenif” SoC being just a recent example of what can be achieved. This is driven by our desire to bring forward a scalable architecture backed by a complete roadmap that is solution focused, so our partners can continue to create exciting, highly differentiated solutions.

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About the author: Alex Voica

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Before deciding to pursue his dream of working in technology marketing, Alexandru held various engineering roles at leading semiconductor companies in Europe. His background also includes research in computer graphics and VR at the School of Advanced Studies Sant'Anna in Pisa. You can follow him on Twitter @alexvoica.

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