Demystifying The IoT Opportunity

With the IoT set to impact our lives for years to come, creative ways must be found to participate.


Today we live in a world based on connectivity and communication, in which a burgeoning network of electronic systems and devices helps us navigate our lives.

While consumer applications such as smartphones, tablets and wearable electronics are more visible in our lives, a larger revolution is taking shape in the industrial and manufacturing arena. Business leaders are racing to benefit from the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), including Industry 4.0, and the increasing investments mega trend, from $20B in 2012 to an estimated $500B by 2020. They expect to capitalize on the estimated $1.7 trillion in cumulative net value of the IIoT [Ref: David Floyer, Wikibon]

The hierarchy within “Internet of Things” consists of 3 key functions as shown in Fig. 1. Things which perform the “Collect” function, Gateway/Network which perform the “Connect” function, and Data/Cloud completing the “Correlate” function.

Figure 1: Hierarchy of functions within Internet of Things and key technologies

Smart cities, autonomous vehicles and utilities will all demand real-time data for decision making. For example, the electronic content in automobiles is expected to increase 6.5 percent annually between 2014 and 2019 — faster than many consumer categories. Command, control and communication technologies are going be crucial, and require high-speed networking infrastructure – servers, routers and switches. Designing high-speed PCBs and semiconductor ICs poses significant challenges for these applications due to design complexity and high reliability requirements.

Whether designing a PCB or an IC, engineers must balance the requirements of three broad areas that affect product reliability — electrical, thermal and mechanical performance. Engineers also need to simulate the interactions between the semiconductor die or the IC, the IC package and the PCB.

The immediate and bigger opportunity for EDA companies is emerging in industrial and commercial IoT applications.

Among the many ambitious goals, the industrial Internet initiative aims to improve industrial efficiency through the use of big data analytics, in addition to business intelligence. By collecting vast amounts of data through networks of sophisticated sensors, the architects expect to improve product reliability, increase factory utilization, deliver greater decision-making insights, and provide loop-back mechanism for preventive maintenance.

Designing robust systems for the industrial Internet will require engineers to improve wireless communication speed and reliability, improve energy efficiency, optimize wireless system performance, ensure structural and thermal integrity, and improve software integrity and security.

Security will be a key factor in the growth of IoT in various vertical markets. From the security point of view, we can only say to what extent a system will be secure as nothing connected online can protect itself against a rogue state or bad actors.

Industry leaders agree that this would involve ensuring device integrity and being able to determine device identity. It would include providing data protection from device to cloud, while maintaining network security. In addition, it would also demand private and public cloud integrity and security. This will mean forming an eco-system of partners in the hierarchy of IoT functions to design in security and privacy at all levels and not treat this as an after-thought.

A new generation of EDA tools and tool flows that address chip-package-system convergence have a great opportunity to solve the total system problem of IoT devices and delivering higher value. This holistic approach for achieving energy-efficient designs from RTL to IP to SoC to Package to PCB to System is critical for the IoT design houses, and creates an enormous opportunity for EDA solution providers who can go beyond the current-generation of EDA tools, which tend to solve these issues in silos and in a disparate ways.

In addition to performing individual physics simulations, engineers must consider the interaction between physics disciplines such as the coupling of signal integrity analysis with thermal simulations and connecting thermal simulations with structural analysis.

Power efficiency isn’t limited to the design of ICs. To achieve the best power and performance trade-offs, engineers need to consider the whole system, including antenna and wireless systems. An optimized antenna system in an IoT device or sensor can provide increased communication range and longer battery life.

Finally we must rank out-of-the-box user experience as one of the top priorities for this new breed of mainstream designers. In addition to easy-to-use tools and tool flows with complete interoperability of vendor tools, we must create specific high-value technical consulting services with domain experts who understand IoT end applications to solve the TOTAL problem — may it be in health-care, commercial drones, autonomous cars, energy-efficient homes, construction robots to entertainment devices.

IoT is going to impact our everyday life for years to come and we’d better find creative ways to participate in this exciting future.