Kevin Ashton, a British technology pioneer, is credited for the term “The Internet of Things” to describe an ecosystem where the Internet is connected to the physical world via ubiquitous sensors. Simply stated: rather than humans creating content for the internet IoT devices create the content. To be clear, this does not include PCs, Smartphones, SmartTVs, or wearable electronics. Think everyday things like thermostats, appliances, parking meters, and medical devices enabling physical-to-digital communication via the internet. Today there are an estimated 2B IoT devices in play and that number is expected to grow exponentially in the coming years, so yes, this is a big deal.
The question I have is this: Does Intel have a chance here or will ARM and the fabless semiconductor ecosystem continue to dominate the IoT market?
The annual ARM user gathering was last month and IoT was a major focus. You can read about the ARM and the Internet of Things keynote and visit the ARM TechCon website for more information. My agenda at the conference was gathering 14nm silicon data but I attended the IoT presentations as well and that lead me to where I am today, at the IEEE IoT workshop.
“The great promise of the Internet of Things is about the transformation of the world based on the convergence of numerous disjointed systems into a fully connected environment where complex tasks are synchronized and performed by a unified platform,”said Oleg Logvinov, member of the IEEE-SA Standards Board, member of the IEEE-SA Corporate Advisory Group, and director of market development, Industrial and Power Conversion Division with STMicroelectronics. “During the workshop in Silicon Valley, we will explore how various technologies can be applied across multiple verticals and how convergence is fueling IoT’s endless potential and opportunities.”
I also attended the IDF 2013 Forum last September where Intel announced their IoT contender, Quark. For you Star Trek fans Quark was the beloved con man pictured above. For Intel, Quark is a synthesizable core based on the 486 instruction set to which they claim uses 1/10th the power of Atom and is 1/5 the size. This was just slides with little technical data but details are now starting to emerge. The first Quark will be manufactured on a 32nm SoC process. The main problem I see here is that Intel’s 32nm is HKMG which is not cost nor power optimized and will unfavorably compete with TSMC 28nm poly/SION but I digress…. Lets get back to business.
The IoT value proposition is similar to mobile with low power and cost being the primary drivers. Business models and ecosystem are also going to be determining factors. Do you even know what silicon is inside your mobile devices? I do, but most people don’t. Do you even care? I do, but again, you don’t. Is IoT going to be any different? Absolutely not so say good bye to the old school benchmarks and transistor one-upmanship.
The first questions during the IDF Q&A were about Quark and the Intel business model. By definition a synthesizable core can be licensed and customized by the customer. ARM takes this to a deeper level by licensing the architecture and instruction set so customers have complete control over implementation. So the first question to Intel CEO Brian K. was: Will Intel license the Quark cores? The answer was, “No”. Can Quark be manufactured outside of Intel? No. Can customers synthesize Quark? No. Can Intel be successful in the IoT market with their current Quark business model? No (my incredibly biased opinion). Fortunately business models can change faster than technology so Intel still has a chance with IoT and Quark but they had better hurry.
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