Imagination's Ensigma Whisper RPUs Promise Lowest Power Consumption For IoT And Wearables

Today, Imagination announced that it's going to enter the IoT and wearable connectivity market with its new IP family called "Ensigma Whisper." The company's OEM customers can choose to integrate Bluetooth Smart, Wi-Fi 802.11n or a combination of the two on their SoCs for wearables and IoT devices. The Ensigma Whisper IP represents an "end-to-end connectivity solution," from software to antennas.

Although the Ensigma Explorer radio processor family focuses on becoming an integral part of higher-performance chips, the Ensigma Whisper Series5 architecture is focused on achieving low power consumption and a more compact size. According to Imagination, radio processors for wearables need to be designed from the ground up with these two goals in mind, rather than having them repurposed from the RPU (Radio Processing Unit) family that focuses on high performance.

Takeshi Niwa, analyst at TSR (Techno Systems Research), said, "In today's connected devices, we see a clear move away from using separate wireless combo chips toward integrating connectivity onto the main application processor as companies look to reduce power, footprint and bill-of-materials. We are seeing this move first in smartphones, where we believe 70 percent of devices will have connectivity integrated in the AP by 2018. As wearable and IoT devices become mainstream, we believe the same trend will occur. With their focus on delivering real performance within an ultra-low power envelope, Imagination's Ensigma Whisper RPUs are welcome entrants to the market."

Imagination will initially be offering three types of Whisper RPUs for low-power devices:

C5400 - Wi-Fi 802.11n RPU that can stream audio and video. It can achieve Wi-Fi connectivity using only as much power as Bluetooth Classic would use.

C5300 - Bluetooth Smart (Low Energy) IP more suitable for wearables, home automation and other IoT devices.

C5401 - Combines both Wi-Fi 802.11n and Bluetooth Smart for devices that need both connectivity options (increasingly more common these days).

Although the Whisper RPUs can be configured to work with the ARM and x86 architectures, Imagination emphasized a tighter relationship with its own MIPS-based CPUs. The Ensigma Whisper RPUs are supported within Imagination's "Connected Processor IP Platform," which is a fully integrated solution for embedded devices that comes with a Linux or RTOS application environment.

Just as we've seen with smartphone SoCs, the trend for IoT SoCs is to also become highly integrated. Integrating the low-power radio processor sensors in an SoC allows OEMs to cut on costs, time-to-market and die size and power consumption.

Thanks to Imagination's PowerGearing technology, the Ensigma Whisper cores are optimized for efficient wakeup. The radio processors will stay idle 99 percent of the time for most IoT devices.

The Whisper RPUs also support Imagination's "FlowCloud" platform that enables IoT devices to connect online and with other devices (through the Internet). However, considering that IoT devices are likely to become a security nightmare in most cases because of OEMs that don't update their devices on time (or ever) and may have poorly written code, it's probably not the wisest decision to connect most IoT devices directly to the Internet.

Something like Google's and ARM's "Thread" protocol sounds like a much better plan for most home automation and other IoT devices. It creates a mesh network to allow IoT devices to connect to each other, only giving them Internet connectivity through a smartphone or some other more secure "gateway." This way, the devices only connect to the Internet when you allow them.

Some devices may still need to be constantly connected to the Internet to be useful, in which case FlowCloud can provide some compelling benefits, such as:

Layered services, so applications can easily integrate their own web services with the FlowCloud PlatformProvides a highly available, globally managed frameworkAbstracts the complexities of integrating with third party providersMessaging service for sending and receiving notifications and alarms, enables two-way communication

Imagination has also included some security features such as support for virtualization on top of MIPS CPU cores to isolate data from most attack vectors and authentication.

Imagination's Ensigma Whisper IP family is now available for licensing. Those who are interested can contact the company directly at

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Lucian Armasu
Lucian Armasu is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers software news and the issues surrounding privacy and security.