Did you know there will be 50 billion connected devices by 2020?
I am not making it up!
This was the future painted by Dr. Martin Scott, SVP and GM, Cryptography Research Division, Rambus, in a scintillating session on the Internet of Things (IoT) at the Silicon Summit 2015 event organized by Global Semiconductor Alliance in April.
What will the future look like when there will be more than six devices for every person on the planet?
I’ll summarize what I learned regarding three IoT topics: the components, the scope and the challenges.
Components of an IoT System
Dr. Scott laid out the high-level components of an IoT system:
- End points are the IoT devices with sensors, hardware and software to provide touch point to the users or gather data
- The Hub/Edge is the data gateway or aggregator. It could be a group of mobile phones, routers, towers and so on.
- There is a cloud system/data center to store and analyze data. A high bandwidth wide area and local area connectivity move data from the end points to the Hub and data center.
Lastly you have Analytics apps to provide meaningful data back to the providers and consumers.
Scope of IoT
The scope of IoT applications is vast. I was aware of its applications in the consumer segment based on media coverage that I had seen previously. It turns out that in addition to the consumer segment, IoT is already playing major roles in industrial and medical segments. As per Rahul Patel, SVP and GM, Wireless Connectivity, Broadcom, IoT has limitless possibilities.
Challenges to IoT success
James Stansberry, SVP and GM IoT Products, Silicon Labs laid out the challenges succinctly: Energy, Functionality, Integration and Connectivity.
Energy: How many times have you been frustrated with your smart phone running out of juice in the middle of the day? While devices are improving battery life with every generation, IoT devices need sustained battery life for a much longer period. IoT devices must operate on a coin cell battery for five years. Unless that happens, the applications will be limited. The SoCs driving the IoT devices have to be ultra-low power.
Connectivity: The bandwidth and flexibility of existing connectivity systems, be they WiFi, Bluetooth or LTE, are too limiting for IoTs to become pervasive. There needs to be higher bandwidth and flexible switching among the connectivity protocols. New standards like new WiFi standards, Bluetooth Smart, ZigBee, and THREAD are emerging as viable solutions.
Integration: A typical IoT SoC will need to integrate highly complex IP and interface with sensors, control, RF and batteries. The process nodes and the SoC development methodology must enable such large-scale integration.
Functionality: Dr. Scott pointed out that sensitive data in transit remains vulnerable going from end-point to hub to cloud. The functionality must include security as a key component.
Recently, my son realized that he had lost his car keys at his college campus one weekend. I thought he would be frantic, asking around for help to find them. Instead, he calmly opened an app on his smart phone and then located his keys on a convenient map, thanks to a tiny tracking chip he had added to his key ring.
IoT is not a concept anymore; it is real, and it is happening. It will become pervasive and ingrained in our lives as soon as the significant challenges in functionality, energy, connectivity and integration are tackled!