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Startup set to roll Bluetooth module-on-a-chip

Posted: 01 Apr 2001     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:bluetooth module  bluetooth baseband  soc  on-chip bluetooth  uart 

A CMOS device said to pack nearly all the components needed to build a Bluetooth module is due from Zeevo Inc., a year-old Silicon Valley startup specializing in wireless communications ICs. Meanwhile, chip makers are moving to incorporate Bluetooth baseband functionality in more-integrated digital devices while leaving the radio components external.

Zeevo's first device will include the radio voltage-controlled oscillator, rf filters, power amplifier, low-noise amplifier plus the digital baseband processor, a CPU and Flash memory, said Greg Ravenscroft, vice president of marketing for Zeevo.

"We need about 90 cents' worth of external components," he said. "That is approximately the cost of the crystal and antenna. We will enable a $15 to $20 bill of materials, quoted in high volumes."

He said Zeevo was able to integrate many of these analog and digital components, a number of which are now used externally, by employing design methods that would make it immune to noise, the biggest barrier to combining a radio with digital logic in CMOS.

"We have developed a variety of techniques in circuit design and basic layout to mitigate noise," he said. "It includes isolation barriers, barriers around sensitive areas, noise suppression circuits and power busing. There is local on-chip power management regulating each block."

Ravenscroft said Zeevo will provide a full software development suite, including upper- and lower-layer stack profiles. "We think the better solution is to provide a one-stop shop for customers," he said.

Zeevo intends to start volume production next month using Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co.'s 0.18µm process technology. "The first thing the company did was a full characterization of the technology for doing RF on CMOS, and we were able to characterize that technology up to 55GHz," Ravenscroft said.

Zeevo and its chief competitor, Cambridge Silicon Radio, look to integrate the major portions of a Bluetooth module on a single piece of silicon. But others aim to treat the Bluetooth baseband as if it were just another peripheral on a CPU, leaving RF as a discrete device.

LinkUp Systems Corp., which designs processors for embedded devices, has taken early steps to incorporate Bluetooth into its processor designs by providing a wire link to a Bluetooth module using a fast UART or Universal Serial Bus with its latest ARM-based L7210. The company intends to add Bluetooth baseband functionality within the next year, said Ravi Bhatnagar, president and CEO of LinkUp.

"Right now there is lots of hype and not much volume," he said. "Until the cost comes down to $5 it will remain mostly hype. The way that will happen is to reduce cost by taking the baseband onto a system-on-chip so that the only other component you need is the RF chip, which is three to four dollars."

That should be made easier by the fact that a Bluetooth baseband takes up only 100,000 gates. Some companies like Parthus Technologies plc and newlogic take advantage of low silicon overhead by selling synthesizable Bluetooth baseband cores.

Anthony Cataldo

EE Times





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