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Internet of Tomorrow: Weaving Together Security-Enabled, Wirelessly-Connected Devices

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Internet of TomorrowJohn Dixon

In an interview with EFY, John Dixon, Director – Corporate Marketing, Freescale, talks about the opportunities that will drive the growth of the IoT and security needs in those devices. He also talks about India as a key IoT market and its role as an IoT-enabler in multiple forms.

Introducing the Internet of Tomorrow…

Q: How does Freescale define Internet of Tomorrow, their adaptation of the term Internet of Things (IoT)?
A: IoT is about everything being connected, it adds intelligence to everyday items that do not have intelligence or connectivity with analytics. I think it has already started and is really prevalent in a lot of places around the world. What Freescale terms as Internet of Tomorrow is not only connectivity, intelligence and analytics but also added security. I think one of the components that still have to be ingrained in every single component of IoT is security. Freescale has been providing security solutions inside all our processors that fit into gateways and the cloud, so you have a continuous stream of communication with security, which actually secures the entire IoT. The Internet of Tomorrow is thus a secured IoT.

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Q: What are the key market trends that drive the growth of IoT devices?
A: The largest one is probably the connected car. I would say, the connected car is the most visual trend that people can see. Look at the density of electronics in the car. You had 50 components 10 years ago in your car, and in the next 10 years you will have as many as probably 500 components in the car. So, the rate of change in your car, in one vehicle space, is probably advancing faster than any other industry alone. This is the big marketing trend that is visible.

Q: What are the key technologies in microcontrollers (MCUs) that are driving the IoT forward?
A: According to me, there are three main MCU technologies that are driving IoT forward. The first is reduced power consumption with increased performance. This is important because IoT devices are battery-operated and need to be connected to other devices over a long period of time. The second technology is connectivity, as it consumes more power while connecting to other devices. Therefore, there is a growing demand for low-power Bluetooth, ZigBee connectivity. The third component is security, that is, the ability to prevent people from tampering with the device as all security documentations are stored in the MCU. To address the security issue, Freescale is coming up with solutions like Kinetis that integrate features like encryption, secure booth, tamper protection and the inability to extract data by probing pins.

Q: What is the advantage of using i.MX 7 compared to i.MX 6 processors?
A: The i.MX 7 processor takes i.MX 6 to the next level. It is a feature-rich multi-core processor that provides exceptional performance at reduced power (almost a third of the power of the i.MX 6) with ease of integration into embedded devices. The i.MX7 integrates multiple components into these three technologies (i.e. power consumption, connectivity and security). The i.MX 7 also integrates a small microcontroller that turns off the larger part of application processors when it is not needed but allows the device to sense and monitor at extremely low power and turn on the application processors when needed.

Securing the IoT

Q: What are the key technology trends that are making MCUs more secure for IoT applications?
A: Flash and encryption are the two key technological trends that are making MCUs more secure for IoT applications. Security of flash or memory is critical from an MCU standpoint as it stores all the security documentation within it. There is a lot of data that is transferred over the Internet to other connected devices in the network, which makes the data vulnerable to being stolen. The data transferred in the network therefore needs to be encrypted for security purpose.

Q: What recent advancements have been made in Freescale MCUs to help engineers create more secure IoT devices?
A: In Freescale, we are cross-pollinating all the security capability of our network processors that will help engineers to create more secure IoT devices. By cross-pollinating, I mean that we are looking at the existing technologies designed for tried-and-tested network processors (for instance) and incorporate them in the MCU. Doing this provides us with a big library of over 100 different security components, which can be used further for faster time-to-market of IoT devices.

Focusing on sensors

Q: How are IoT applications influencing change in sensors?
A: I think what you will see is new functionality and innovative products that earlier had no use for sensors looking at how to possibly use sensors for implementing the designs. So, there is a lot of sensing technology that can be used in every single product for which the functionality has not been brought out yet. I think we don’t even know the true potential of the sensors that are already there in IoT products and devices we use today.

Q: Any new type of sensors being developed specific to IoT applications?
A: Freescale is working on various innovative ground-breaking technologies in sensors that will be seen in the next 12 months.

Q: What are the key challenges that sensors will need to address in the future to provide better solutions for IoT applications?
A: According to me, power consumption is one of the key challenges that IoT devices need to address in the future. Since these devices are designed to run for a very long period without being connected to power, the embedded sensors tend to exhaust the power of the device, therefore reducing long hours of operation. The other constraint is the size of the sensors. As the device size shrinks, it becomes extremely difficult to embed more and more sensors like accelerometers, gyrometers and magnetometers in the reduced space.

Q: IoT applications not only demand security but low-power components too. What are the key changes being made across components to make them more “low power”?
A: One of the things that you can do to reduce power consumption is integrate multiple devices into one single chip so that you don’t have to go from chip-to-chip for communicating with processors, power management integrated circuits (PMICs), memory or any other component, which helps in saving space and power being consumed. Freescale has released a new technology called SCM. This technology allows the integration of processors, power ICs, flash and external memory as well as 102 other components like resistors and capacitors all on a single-piece silicon in die form. Not only does it deliver lower power, lower price and a smaller form factor but also allows mix-and-match of different technologies to create products within a period of two or three months. This is possible because we are taking the existing technologies and integrating them into a very small form factor. The second component is process technology. When everything gets small, it takes less power. A good example of process technology is KLO2 or KLO3, which is the smallest ARM-powered MCU in the world and is a Kinetis-based device from Freescale that has a dimension of 1.8×1.8 mm and can deliver a 48MHz performance squeezed to a small size. Not only process technology, but packaging technology can also help in lowering power consumption.

Q: Which are the key factors influencing the adoption of IoT devices?
A: I see connectivity and security as the two prime factors for the adoption of IoT. The convenience factor of IoT devices can only be realised when they are able to connect to Bluetooth, wireless LAN, Wi-Fi, ZigBee or other connectivity standards. Therefore, connectivity standards are amongst the key components that I think are changing the face of IoT. A lot of IoT devices are coming up from start-up firms that focus more on functionality rather than security of the connected device in the IoT network. And Freescale is spending a lot of time on extending security solutions to these devices. The other component that I feel will play a huge role in the demand for IoT devices is the use of analytics, i.e., details available from these devices. With data analytics, we will be able to increase the overall system efficiency. To illustrate this, consider the propeller blade of a Boeing 777 aircraft, which captures 1TB of data every minute. We do not have the tools to understand what can be done with that data, but what Freescale did is, with one of the components it captured data to reduce the fuel efficiency by 30 per cent on one flight, based on the changing speed of that propeller. That is what we can achieve using analytics.

Q: What are the key challenges or perceived threats related to IoT applications and devices?
A: The biggest challenge related to IoT is interoperability, and the biggest threat is security. Unless you have integrated security there will be misuse of these devices. People can gain unauthorised access to other connected devices in the network, which could lead to loss of information and data. Also safety concerns really question the viability of IoT devices unless we act faster and implement security in those devices now.

Getting down to business

Q: How do you see the IoT market positioned in Asia when compared globally?
A: I see there is a lot of focus on economic efficiencies related to the IoT market in the US. By economic efficiencies I mean a lot of IoT devices are used in applications that are purely revenue earners. For instance, approximately US$ 1.8 billion per year was collected from the parking meters installed in San Francisco andNew York. By doing so, the cities are actually trying to optimise those parking meters to get the highest possible revenue and make it a more efficient way for people to use the space. On the other hand, in Asia, IoT is exercised more for personal or individual use, in home automation, wearables, and so on. I believe it is because of the different pace and focus of the governments and consumers in two different locations.

Q: Which is the fastest growing IoT business/market segment?
A: I believe that the industrial segment is currently the fastest growing in the IoT segment. However, what is going behind factory automation is not visible to us when compared to other segments such as health and fitness. But, industrial-based devices are where we will see the biggest development because that is where the biggest number of dollars can be saved through efficiencies using IoT.

Q: What are the top application segments that you think will drive the need for IoT (e.g., automotive, industrial, wearables, etc)?
A: According to me, applications like parking assistance, advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) in the automotive segment, are among the top application segments that will drive the need for IoT in the near future. As mentioned earlier, applications related to industrial automation is another major segment that has huge potential and will see huge requirement of IoT devices. I think applications related to home automation is the next big segment that will witness changes related to the use of IoT. Compatibility will be achieved through communication protocols like Thread that enable multiple different wireless standards to communicate off-the-shelf with other devices. In smart cities, LED lighting exhibits a huge opportunity related to IoT applications and is the easiest to implement. There are many lights existing today that are not LED and are also not connected to the Internet, this therefore provides a huge opportunity for implementation of IoT devices.

Q: How do you see the consumer wearable market in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region?
A: I think the adoption of wearables has been more dominant in the US so far, as people there have gotten used to it, as most innovations are originating from Silicon Valley or other start-up hubs in places like New York and Boston. This trend is now getting into Asia. When I look at consumer wearables, there is a lot still left to be done with health monitoring devices and activity trackers.

Handling business threats and opportunities

Q: How does Freescale plan to tackle competition from other leading players in the MCU and sensors market?
A: The combination of Freescale and NXP in the upcoming merger will put us in a position of pure strength. By pure strength, I mean that we will be the no. 1 MCU provider in the world. Being no. 1 gives you the opportunity of taking that leadership and reinvesting it in the future. On the other hand, being the no. 1 MCU vendor in the world also signifies that you are supplying MCUs to all the top products and customers in the world. This reach will help us to develop innovative MCU designs by interacting with our customers. The same concept will extend to sensors when we combine both the companies. It will enable us to create new and innovative products in sensor technology.

Q: What will be the company’s marketing strategy for the promotion of IoT solutions across the APAC region?
A: The IoT truck is a good example and is one of the components driving the integrated marketing campaign. It actually exhibits IoT technologies and functionalities apart from educating our customers about the need for security in IoT devices. A lot of security training is arranged in the truck at every location. Doing so, we are educating our future customers and even university students on how to implement security in embedded designs. The other activity that we are doing is, collaborating with universities and governments to ensure visibility of the technologies that we have.

Q: How do you see the IoT market in India and China by the end of 2020?
A: According to Gartner, by 2017, 50 per cent of the IoT products will come from start-ups, which I firmly believe in. There are a large number of start-ups in India and China. The acumen present in this region will drive the functionality and innovation in the IoT market by the end of 2020.

Q: How do you see India? Is it only a market where you want to increase your sales, or do you realise India as a global marketing platform that can increase your sales across the globe—thanks to the large number of Independent and Captive Design Houses setting up shop in India (as per our estimates more than 25 per cent of electronics design is now being influenced by engineering houses in India)?
A: I see India as an IoT enabler in different forms. India is well-known for its software expertise and innovation, and the biggest challenge IoT faces is on the software side. India is a hive for different technologies, which signifies that India is the leading player for technology trends in IoT. Different companies around the world have started to create hardware platforms, and India has a huge opportunity to excel in this space. A large portion of Freescale business is actually designed and developed in India and then manufactured in different places. It is not actually a manufacturing hub but a lot of development related to gateway, cloud or end nodes is done in India. A lot of active development that differentiates all these IoT products is already happening in India and will eventually grow more and more in the future.

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