Accelerating Low Power and Wider Adoption of Wi-Fi 6

Article By : Nitin Dahad

Recent Wi-Fi 6 launches from Imagination Technologies and NXP Semiconductors expect to help proliferate low power, mass market Wi-Fi 6 products.

The new Wi-Fi 6 standard, better known to engineers as IEEE, is rapidly becoming a major driver for the wireless local area network (WLAN) market. According to the market research analysts at International Data Corp. (IDC), Wi-Fi 6 supported dependent access points (APs) made up 11.8% of unit shipments but 21.8% of revenues in the first quarter of 2020. The previous generation standard, 802.11ac, still made up the majority of shipments (80.9%) and revenues (76.2%).

Reflecting this, a number of embedded Wi-Fi 6 related solutions have been announced recently. The latest is from Imagination Technologies, which announced its latest intellectual property (IP) delivering integrated RF and baseband for low power and battery-powered applications, as required for the internet of things (IoT), wearables and hearables. NXP Semiconductors also recently announced an expanded Wi-Fi 6 portfolio to enable wider market adoption over the existing solutions which primarily target premium products.

Imagination integrated IP targets low-power Wi-Fi 6

Imagination Technologies’ new iEW400, available for licensing now, includes integrated RF, AFE, baseband PHY and MAC. It is supplied as hard macro for analog and synthesizable RTL for digital, enabling flexibility and fast time to market coupled with reduced development costs.

Andrew Zignani, principal analyst at ABI Research, said, “The emergence of IoT-centric Wi-Fi 6 IP and chipsets that can more efficiently and reliably address wearable, smart home, industrial, and other IoT market requirements, represents a key milestone in enabling the next generation of low-power Wi-Fi. Solutions such as iEW400 will become increasingly critical in providing these devices with longer lifespans, improved reliability and robustness, and enhanced performance in dense deployment scenarios.”

Imagination Technologies said Wi-Fi has already seen strong growth for battery-powered applications, driven by increased adoption of low-power IEEE 802.11n devices. IEEE 802.11ax enables these products to integrated improved power consumption and efficiency, along with enhanced performance and robustness. Hence low-power Wi-Fi 6 devices are the next step in the evolution of Wi-Fi in battery-constrained applications.

Imagination Technologies iEW400-FullMAC
Imagination Technologies said its iEW400 Wi-Fi 6 IP enables any microcontroller company to enter the connected MCU market easily. (Image: Imagination Technologies)

Wi-Fi offers several benefits that other low-power connectivity solutions like Bluetooth can’t. First, is the potential for much higher data rates: it can reach up to 230 Mbps. Wi-Fi also offers a better range than competitors and it also operates at 5GHz, which is a much less congested frequency band than 2.4GHz. Finally, it also supports IP networking, which is important if you want to send data into the cloud without any complexity.

The key with Wi-Fi 6 is the addition of several new features designed to address the typically higher power consumption compared to alternatives. It has been designed to improve data throughput, increase robustness and reduce power consumption, all at the same time. With its new IP, Imagination wants Wi-Fi to be the technology of choice for low-power IoT applications. The company said the iEW400 enables any microcontroller company to enter the connected MCU market easily. It can also be paired with its Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) solutions for a Wi-Fi 6 plus BLE v5.2 combo IC.

Power efficiency in its iEW400 is enabled by features such as Target Wait Time (TWT), a new Wi-Fi 6 feature where the access points negotiate with attached devices to agree when they should wake up to transmit data. This scheduling means devices can deep-sleep for extended periods, dramatically reducing current consumption and significantly increase battery life. It also means that sensors could potentially be left usefully gathering data in the field for years at a time.

In addition, orthogonal frequency-division multiple access (OFDMA) improves performance in high-density environments. By enabling bandwidth within channels to be segmented, multiple devices can receive data in the same time frame. This smart use of bandwidth increases data transmission efficiency, reducing power consumption, and dramatically increasing data throughput.

Two other key features that the device exploits from Wi-Fi 6 are basic service set (BSS) coloring and dual subcarrier modulation (DCM). In BSS coloring, data from each access point is prescribed a color, so clients can identify which one is transmitting, resulting in improved network performance. This addresses areas where there are multiple access points and many clients, such as large crowds, where Wi-Fi typically struggles to deliver consistent throughput as the data from different access points can overlap, causing contention and interference. The DCM mode is where the same information is modulated on a pair of sub-carriers, which can ensure data gets through even in challenging scenarios.

The Imagination Wi-Fi 6 IP enables a 2.4/5GHz low-power Wi-Fi solution in a silicon-ready design, with a 6.84 mm2 die area, including analog pads, in TSMC 40nm LP. It includes internal power amplifiers, LNA and switch, sleep controller to ensure overall system-level power consumption reduction, and an optional integrated power management unit (PMU).

NXP expanded portfolio brings Wi-Fi 6 to a wider market
Meanwhile, NXP Semiconductors recently brought out a new portfolio of Wi-Fi 6 products which it says brings the capabilities of IEEE to a wider market. In a briefing with EE Times, Mark Montierth, vice president and general manager at NXP, said, Wi-Fi 6 was currently too expensive to implement. He said its new portfolio would accelerate large scale adoption of Wi-Fi 6 across IoT, automotive, access and industrial markets.

ABI Research’s Zignani commented, “To date, the adoption of Wi-Fi 6 has predominantly been driven by smartphones. However, we expect significant traction to build within the IoT, infrastructure, and automotive markets throughout 2020 and beyond. This growth will be further driven by power- and cost-optimized chipsets such as NXP’s latest offerings, which will increase the viability of Wi-Fi for these other applications and help open up all new opportunities for the technology.”

NXP’s expanded Wi-Fi 6 portfolio represents the company’s new end-to-end vision of products for large-scale deployment across multiple markets, with capabilities, including, up to 4x performance improvement, greater range, improved battery life and better connection reliability.

This new portfolio includes 4×4 and 8×8-stream solutions with integrated Bluetooth 5 for home and enterprise access solutions (the 88W9064, 88W9068); concurrent dual Wi-Fi 2×2 and also 2×2 + Bluetooth 5 AEC-Q100 qualified solutions purpose-built for the highest performance infotainment and telematics automotive applications (88Q9098); concurrent dual Wi-Fi 2×2  and also 2×2 + Bluetooth 5 solutions for best-in-class offering for multimedia streaming and consumer access applications (88W9098); and IoT-focused 2×2 WiFi 6 + Bluetooth 5 optimized for cost and power.

In addition, NXP’s RF front-end (RFFE) solution portfolio – which is designed into the Xiaomi Mi 10 5G smartphone – based on Silicon Germanium (SiGe) can scale Wi-Fi 6 capabilities from low-to-high-end applications, including 1×1, 2×2, 4×4 and 8×8 MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) solutions and is packaged in an ultra-compact 3 mm x 4 mm module optimized for mobile. It is designed with Wi-Fi 6 capability to support advanced portable computing devices, including premier 5G smartphones, and to enable 2×2 MIMO functionality with the highest performance.

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