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Microcontrollers Power Up IoT

The Internet of Things (IoT) has begun penetrating the consumer market, albeit in a small way. Smart homes, smart refrigerators, smart TVs are all beginning to shape up a future world where every object, service, platform is connected via the Internet. While this market shapes up, there is a nagging concern about power management. A predominant demand of the IoT ecosystem is the need for devices and processors to consume extremely low power – in microwatts – and also ensure the cost of the device is competitive.

In the initial stages, 8 bit devices with 8051 core processors was the preferred combination for an IoT device. However, a growing demand for cost-effective yet power efficient microcontrollers has catapult 32 bit microcontroller units (MCUs) to popularity. These 32 bit MCUs include higher processing capabilities and can enter the sleep mode faster to preserve power. They also include larger flash memory and RAM sizes that allows for their usage across an entire networking stack and application code on the MCU, negating the need for an additional processor in the system. There has been an increase in R&D interest in MCU technology, what with designers taking up the challenge to develop MCUs that are high performers, cost effective and energy efficient.

Industry forecasts suggest that the MCU market is poised for a strong growth, up from $4.4 billion in 2016 to $7 billion by 2021. IoT is predicted to drive a major part of this growth.

The IoT Microcontroller market can be divided on the basis of Application, Type, and Geography.

  • The Application category includes Consumer Electronics and Home Appliances, Automotive, Industries (Including Smart Home), Medical, Security ID and Solar PV and Smart Grid.
  • The Type category of the IoT Microcontroller market includes 8-BIT MCU, 16-BIT MCU, and 32-BIT MCU.
  • The Geography category of the IoT Microcontroller market encompasses North America, Asia-Pacific, and Europe

Qualcomm, Samsung, Intel, Xerox Corporation and Afero Inc are the leading players in the IoT Microcontroller market. Qualcomm is the most prominent player in this domain with the highest number of patents. Qualcomm uses Snapdragon processors for IoT applications and provides IoT solutions in Consumer Electronics, Smart Cities, Smart Homes, Voice and Music applications, etc. Intel is also implementing IoT solutions in various sectors such as Energy Management, Smart Building, Healthcare, Smart Cities, etc. Further, Samsung is ready to offer an IoT product for short range communication called the IoT gateway. Samsung also provides IoT solutions for Cellular IoT, LoRaWAN, Public Safety LTE, etc. Furthermore, Afero Inc. provides IoT development kit such as Afero-Mod2-XPRO that connects any Microchip microcontroller with an XPRO interface to the Afero Modulo-2 IoT reference design board. The kit allows for easy and rapid firmware development to connect IoT applications to the Afero Cloud environment through either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth low energy technology.

An analysis of the patent filing trend in IoT Microcontroller technology reveals a steep rise in patenting activity since 2008. A few prominent inventions in recent times include:

NXP’s LPC84x family created for entry-level IoT applications is the latest addition to its rapidly expanding LPC800 series of 32-bit ARM microcontrollers. This builds on its innovation with a unique way to configure a device without CPU intervention.

Arduino has announced an IoT Kit for LoRa Developers. It has partnered with semiconductor provider Semtech to offer IoT developers new tools for the LoRaWAN wireless protocol.

Samsung has started mass manufacturing of its first Exynos chip called the Exynos i T200 for IoT. The Exynos i T200 has a Cortex-R4 processor with an additional Cortex-M0+ chip, which performs without dependence on an extra microcontroller.

Microchip has introduced the extreme low power PIC32MM Microcontroller family for IoT sensor nodes. It includes several connectivity options, core independent peripherals and feature-rich development boards.