ARM enters the radio IP market with Cordio

Updated: A new frontier and the last missing link (layer)

ARM logoYesterday ARM entered the radio market with their Cordio IP block triplets. These three IP offerings do Bluetooth 5, 802.15.4, and both depending on which version you buy.

Update Oct. 4, 2016 at 11:00am: ARM has had radios out for more than a year now, not sure how we missed that. In any case their portfolio is much more rounded out now.

SemiAccurate thinks this is a big step forward for the Japanese giant for two reasons, it is a brave new market and it completes their portfolio of major IP blocks. There are three radios in the Cordio family, the C50, E154, and B50. Technically all are prefixed with the Cordio- tag and postfixed with “radio IP” but we will skip that part for both your and our sanity. The E154 does 802.15.4 which is the basis for ZigBee, 6LowPan, Thread, and others, the B50 is Bluetooth 5, and the C50 does both. Technically all three are IP blocks not a physical radio but you get the idea.

The first reason that this is important is ARM hasn’t really ever had a radio product before so it represents new ground for the company. Anything radio related is somewhat of a black art due to the analog side and a major pain to sell because of worldwide RF certification standards. The ARM Cordio blocks can be used with a lot of 3rd party RF front ends and software stacks as well as in-house versions so there should be plenty of variants out there to choose from. In any case it represents a bold new arena for them to wade into but it should help smooth out some major lumps in the development process for their partners.

Why? Because the radio was one of the few major blocks that ARM didn’t have as long ago as last Monday. Now if you are doing an IoT device or low power connected widget, you can get almost everything from Softb…ARM. Sorry, had to at least once. While ARM is open to 3rd part IP that competes with their own, having the option to do a one stop shopping spree with guaranteed compatibility and lots of pre-certifications can be appealing to many customers. Think time to market and you are on the right track. To a lesser extent it can also be seen as executive Prozac for the same reasoning as, “nobody ever got fired for buying IBM” was.

On the foundry side the Cordio triplets are open to a number of processes with that number specifically being five. Those are TSMC 40LP/40ULP, TSMC 55LP/55ULP and UMC 55ULP, all low power and ‘old’ nodes. This says one thing rather clearly, the Cordio family is aimed at the heart of the IoT market, not the consumer device/phone/tablet/bleeding edge thingy space. Where Cordio plays is a market concerned with very low energy use, die size, and cost. Anything you probably have in your pocket is so far removed from this arena that it should be considered a completely different market.

So that is what ARM is releasing, on the surface it is just a radio on an old process, at least from a consumer electronics point of view. From an IoT perspective it is the last brick in the wall for the ARM IP portfolio and gives silicon designers a ‘safe’ choice for I/O. It will be interesting to see how high up the radio IP stack ARM is going to climb, will Wi-Fi come next?S|A

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Charlie Demerjian

Roving engine of chaos and snide remarks at SemiAccurate
Charlie Demerjian is the founder of Stone Arch Networking Services and SemiAccurate.com. SemiAccurate.com is a technology news site; addressing hardware design, software selection, customization, securing and maintenance, with over one million views per month. He is a technologist and analyst specializing in semiconductors, system and network architecture. As head writer of SemiAccurate.com, he regularly advises writers, analysts, and industry executives on technical matters and long lead industry trends. Charlie is also a council member with Gerson Lehman Group. FullyAccurate