28th April 2014

Mobility and IoT - and its impact on the semiconductor industry

I attended the Semicon 2014 last week here in Singapore at the Marina Bay Sands – after a self-imposed hiatus of a few years. I attribute the hiatus to Semi charging people to attend its industry tracks. I do realize that they too have to make a bit of money to sustain but then it is always tough to pay for an event once you get used to participating in them for free for some years! Anyhow, as I was chairing a session on the Fabless/IDM Technology Challenges track in this year’s event, I had free access to all its tracks and especially the market trends as well as the networking cocktail event held on the first day. The market trend has always been a big crowd puller for Semi and this year was no exception.

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Anyhow, let me talk here about the Fabless/IDM track. This was co-organized by SSIA (Singapore Semiconductor Industry Association) of which I happen to be an executive committee member, along with Semi.

The theme of this track was “Mobility and IoT - and its impact on the semiconductor industry “. The growth has been quite rapid in this space especially now in the IoT one. The potential market is huge, is fragmented and with low barriers to entry and no major competitors/players (as yet) – a conducive backdrop on Porter’s five competitive forces shaping industry competition. Unlike the smartphone market which has evolved into a cut throat biz dominated by vertically integrated players, the IoT looks set to provide a refreshing levelling impetus.

We are looking into some exciting and innovating market opportunities in this space, especially on the IoT front. Apart from the potentially high growth applications markets that this opens up for the semiconductor industry, the underlying fabric of our industry is also seeing transformation at various levels including the increasing inter dependency and synergy across the various entities in this eco system. These emerging application markets and morphing industry ecosystem bring along several interesting visions and opportunities as well as new challenges. So it was with a lot of excitement and quest for knowing more on this aspect that I was looking forward to chairing this session and especially more to moderating the panel discussion following the presentations. And of course, the great speakers and the panellist line-up fuelled this up.

The speakers included Vincent Tong, SVP, New Product Introductions and Worldwide Quality & Asia Pacific Executive Leader, Xilinx, Greg Turetzky, Strategic Business Development Manager, Wireless Communication Systems Group, Intel, Jennifer Teo, VP of Manufacturing and GM, Silicon Labs International and Giuseppe Miano, VP Asia Operations and MD, Broadcom, Singapore. Vincent’s talk dwelled on IoT requiring advanced SoC with differentiation as a key i.e. differentiation with intelligence and flexibility and hence programmability. Greg spoke about ubiquitous location for all mobile platforms, the opportunities and the challenges. The market opportunities have expanded from GPS to GNSS and now to location with the latter being the next big opportunity – always located and with context. Jennifer talked about how IoT is being a game changer and dwelt on the technologies required for the “things”. Giuseppe spoke about the 3rd wave of wireless connectivity – from connecting to consumption to sensing (and controlling). Have added another acronym to my vocab – BYOW (Bring your own wearable) – and must say I find that cool! He also spoke about the favourable market dynamics driving the growth as well as the aspects that need to start being considered especially on the manufacturing, logistics and suppliers side.

The panel discussion following these talks centred on “Harnessing the power of Mobility and IoT – perspectives from the semiconductor industry”. The panellists included the earlier speakers and
Subramani Kengeri, VP, Advanced Technology Architecture, GlobalFoundries and Francis Puno, Chairman SEA Work Group of Continua Health Alliance.

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With stake holders from across the value-chain – IDM, fabless, foundry, application – the panel stirred up a lively and insightful debate. While the insights were quite forthcoming on my questions regarding the technical and even the ecosystem enablers, there was almost a conspiratorial silence from the panel on my query about the biz models they anticipated to develop or emerge with IoT applications. As they said, everyone is holding their cards close to their chest!

It was an insightful and a highly engaging session where all the speakers and panelists spoke passionately about this industry. And that is always heartening!

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posted in Semiconductor, Business, Fabless, Industry Events, Ecosystem, Market trend, Internet of Things, IoT, IDM | 0 Comments

14th February 2013

Internet of Things (IoT) and the opportunities for chip biz

There has been a lot of talk on Internet of Things (IoT) or Machine2Machine (M2M) communications – which basically is an intelligent grid of devices connected to each other through the internet. Chips are embedded in the devices enabling them to relay information, take decisions, communicate commands and adjust settings/implement a requisite action(s) accordingly.

As per a report from ABI Research, over five billion wireless connectivity chips will ship in 2013.

What does this mean for the chip biz?

Some basic things that various devices involved in this IoT will include are: wireless connectivity (mostly low power unless one or more of these devices is connected to the mains), sensors, MEMs and control units.

The control units here needn’t be too fancy – efficient and sufficient enough to do the task they are assigned for. They span from low end to high end depending on the computing power required for the control functions - served by MCUs, embedded processors. The sensors (for temperature, pressure, moisture, light etc.) are coupled with accelerometers, gyroscopes and the like.

Connecting to the internet – wirelessly and power efficiently – that will be the key for connectivity stake holders in this space. Nuel has come up with an interesting way to achieve this. It recently announced a white space (unused frequencies during TV channels’ transmission) radio chip for low power communications and come out with a chip to demonstrate the same (it implements the “Weightless’ specifications)

One thing I find interesting about IoT/M2M is that it does not have any defined market space/application. There are potentially several applications, several markets where these can find their way. So, while one can chose to specialize in servicing one market/application, a choice of providing a generic chip/platform (control/sensor/connectivity) for any or combination/integration (SoC) of the components of the basic fabric for any (or at least most of the applications) is also wide open.

However, for the application to catch on, it has to be implemented in an inexpensive way and should be easy to use - and that is where we’ll see some exciting innovation & integration happening

posted in ASICs, Semiconductor, Business, Communciation, Technology, Hardware, Ecosystem, chip design, Market trend | 0 Comments

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