Semiconductor manufacturers leveraged Electronica 2016 as a launch pad for their new Internet of Things (IoT) platforms, components and solutions. It makes sense considering the trillion dollar forecast for IoT spending over the next five years. Global spending on IoT will reach nearly $1.3 trillion in 2019, up from $698.6 million in 2015, according to a recent International Data Corporation (IDC) Spending Guide. This translates into a 17 percent compound annual growth rate over the five-year forecast.
The regions with the fastest growth in IoT spending over the forecast period is Latin America, followed by Western Europe and Central and Eastern Europe, according to IDC.
IDC’s updated forecast in June finds that U.S. organizations will invest more than $232 billion in IoT hardware, software, services and connectivity this year. At an expected 16.1 percent CAGR, U.S. spending will reach more than $357 billion in 2019. The biggest spenders will be the manufacturing and transportation segments with IoT use cases in manufacturing operations, freight monitoring, and smart buildings, according to IDC.
These investments will trickle down to the component industry, particularly for semiconductors and sensors. The latest IC Insights report forecasts 19 percent growth for IoT semiconductor sales in 2016, reaching $18.4 billion. The market is expected to reach $29.6 billion in 2019.
However, one of the biggest challenges for chipmakers is security, which will be critical element to growth in the IoT market.
At Electronica, Bolaji Ojo, editor-in-chief and publisher of EPS News, reported that top semiconductor manufacturers are taking on the security challenge with efforts focused on multi-layer protection for IoT products.
Speedier Designs with Development Kits
Another challenge is design complexity, which many semiconductor manufacturers are addressing with new modular development platforms and modules. Several manufacturers, including ON Semiconductor and Cypress Semiconductor, took advantage of the trade show to launch their new platforms, designed to speed up the implementation of many types of applications, including cloud-based ones, a growing element in the IoT.
One of the wide-reaching platforms is ON Semiconductor’s modular IoT Development Kit that provides hardware and software building blocks to evaluate, design and implement medical, home and industrial IoT applications. These are all big growth markets for IoT semiconductors. IC Insights’ semiconductor forecast for IoT connections for industrial Internet will grow from $3.5 billion in 2016 to $7.3 billion in 2019. The connected homes chip market will grow 26 percent, reaching about $545 million in 2016
The ON Semiconductor kit provides a variety of module options for sensing, wired and wireless connectivity, and actuation. Additionally, the software development framework delivers an embedded operating system (ARM mbed OS), drivers, APIs for hardware shields, a graphical user interface (GUI) and sample applications code, and it supplies built-in support for cloud software. This “enables the platform to deliver data into the cloud for value-added services such as analytics,” the company said.
The kit also offers a variety of industry-standard interfaces, including Arduino and Pmod, which allows for the seamless integration of existing and future modules from both ON Semiconductor and third parties, said the company.
ON’s IoT demos at the show included a PIR-based motion alarm featuring Sigfox cloud connectivity, an intelligent water meter and a smart power application. The IoT Development Kit will be available through its distribution partners.
Another IoT development debuted at Electronica that incorporates cloud connectivity together with multiple wireless protocols. The WICED Studio 4 software development kit from Cypress Semiconductor is a turnkey platform, which is said to enable wireless connectivity in minutes, while providing a single development environment for multiple wireless technologies, including Cypress' Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and combo solutions, with an application programming interface.
The WICED platform also supports popular cloud services such as Amazon Web Services, IBM Bluemix, Alibaba Cloud, and Microsoft Azure, along with services from private cloud partners.
Cypress claims it eliminates the need for developers to implement the various protocols to connect to them, which reduces development time and costs. "Many IoT applications are trending toward combo solutions that enable Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and alternative connectivity protocols, and every IoT developer is looking for a simple migration path to connectivity upgrades," said Mike Hogan, Vice President of the IoT Business Unit at Cypress, in a statement.
With the IoT trend toward dual-mode connectivity, Cypress said the kit supports both Cypress' CYW 43438 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth combination solution and its low-power CYW 20719 Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) combination solution, which is sampling to lead customers. The SDK supports Apple's HomeKit home automation platform to Apple licensees, and it will soon add support for China's key Weibo social media platform.
The Cypress SDK also is microcontroller (MCU)-agnostic which means it provides support for a variety of third-party MCUs. At Electronica, the company demoed the WICED Studio 4 SDK and its IoT solution portfolio, which includes solutions for connected cars, industrial IoT, smart home applications, and wearables. Other new Cypress IoT products showcased at the show include the HyperFlash and HyperRAM memories in a multi-chip package (MCP).
Chipmakers also have a bull’s-eye on the wearables market, which is currently valued at $2.2 billion in 2016, according to IC Insights. Silicon Labs is one of those companies focused on miniaturized components required for the wearables market. The company has claimed the smallest Bluetooth system-in-package (SiP) module for IoT nodes.
The 6.5 mm x 6.5 mm BGM12x Blue Gecko SiP modules offer a built-in antenna, enabling designers to minimize the antenna clearance area to 51 mm2. Applications for the Bluetooth module include sports and fitness wearables, smartwatches, personal medical devices, wireless sensor nodes and other space-constrained connected devices.
Based on Silicon Labs’ Blue Gecko wireless SoC, the BGM12x module provides an all-in-one Bluetooth connectivity solution featuring an ARM Cortex-M4 processor, high-output Bluetooth power amplifier, high-efficiency onboard antenna, external antenna options, oscillators and passives, a secure Bluetooth 4.2 stack and development tools. Blue Gecko SoCs will be available in an ultra-small (3.3 mm x 3.14 mm x 0.52 mm) wafer-level chip-scale package (WLCSP), the company said.
Silicon Labs showcased the BGM12x SiP module at Electronica with a heart-rate monitoring wearable demonstration. Samples and production quantities of the BGM12x Blue Gecko modules are available with pricing starting at $4.17 in 10,000-unit quantities. WLCSP versions of the Blue Gecko SoCs will be available later this month. The SLWSTK6101C Blue Gecko wireless starter kit, priced at $99 (USD MSRP), and free wireless SDK, are available now.
Another Bluetooth solution for wearables and smart electronics launched at the trade show is the EM9304 low-power system-on-chip (SoC) from EM Microelectronic. Optimized for Bluetooth v2.4 low energy (BLE) enabled IoT products, the EM9304 SoC can be used in a variety of BLE applications including beacons or smart sensing wearables.
The EM9304 can be used standalone, or connected to a variety of sensors with standard serial interfaces. It also can be connected with a standard MCU or custom ASIC for customers who only require a simple and easy-to-implement BLE add-on function to existing applications, said the company.
EM Microelectronic claims it is the smallest BLE v4.2 SoC available on the market and features a 2.4-GHz transceiver with high receiver sensitivity, programmable transmit power for optimized current consumption, and an on-chip power management system with automatic configuration for 1.5-V or 3-V batteries. It is compatible with standard 1.5-V MCUs such as ultra-low-power watch microprocessors from EM Microelectronic, or with standard 3-V microprocessors from many vendors. The EM9304 comes with 128kB OTP for applications, 48kB RAM to support application development, and up to 20kB RAM of retention data RAM.
Hardware and software development kits for the EM9304 are available now, including commercially available tools with an IDE and debugger. QFN samples are available now and full production will be available in early 2017.
Front-end modules that support a number of wireless standards is also on the forefront of new semiconductor designs. One example is a host of fully integrated front-end modules from Skyworks Solutions Inc. that supports next generation Bluetooth, Thread and ZigBee standards. The company claims these newest modules –targeting connected home, industrial automation and energy management - extend battery life and more than double the transmission range of wireless devices.
“When paired with System on a Chip (SoC) platforms, the devices deliver the world’s most efficient wireless solution, maximizing battery life while simultaneously increasing the transmission range with improved power,” said the company. Skyworks said several leading SoC providers are using these front-end modules as part of their reference designs.
The SKY66112-11 multimode front-end module provides an integrated inter-stage matching and harmonic filter, with digital controls compatible with CMOS, and operates over a wide supply voltage range from 1.2 V to 3.6 V. The device is available for sampling and production. The company showcased a variety of IoT products at Electronica, which can be found here.
There were a host of other IoT products demoed at the trade show. These include SolidRun’s MikroBUS board, in collaboration with NXP, which is designed to simplify the connection of IoT devices to networks. Another example is the u-blox LARA-R3121 cellular module that incorporates the company’s proprietary UBX-R3 LTE modem technology and integrated GNSS. This module can be used in a variety of IoT applications such as smart utility metering, connected health and patient monitoring, smart buildings, security and video surveillance, smart payment and POS systems, and wearables.
Although most of the focus in the electronic components industry has been on the chip side – semiconductors and sensors, it won’t be too long before the industry steps up their passive and connector component designs to support the multitude of IoT applications.