EE Times: Will the Internet of Things (IoT) be the greatest thing to happen to companies like ARM?
I wouldn’t necessarily call it that, because it is mobile phones that
have just happened -- with the biggest scale in the largest volume. If
trillions of IoT devices emerge, yes, that’s great. But if IoT is
something that starts to happen, it will unfold over a long span of 10
to 20 years.
EE Times: What will ARM need to do to enable IoT?
We rolled out last year Cortex M0+, which is built on our Cortex M0. Cortex M0 has been successful, but it is not quite right for smart energy
devices. ARM can go a long way, but we must align our business with
what’s happening in the industry. We need to see different companies
with commercial, vested interests coming together and putting agreements
in place. We encourage standardization.
EE Times: Can you give me an example of these standardization efforts?
Weightless standard [for machine-to-machine communications] is one. [The new initiative] is working on a
standard in white space radio. Weightless is proposing a wireless
technology standard for exchanging data [between a basestation and
thousands of machines around it] over a longer range but at very low,
low power. It’s using wavelength radio transmission in an unused
spectrum -- where analog TV vacated their broadcast channels -- known as
white space. When you don’t have to transmit a lot of data – as little
as a few kilobits per second, you can do this over a long distance.
IoT is very diverse. It needs to deal with different payloads,
different wireless architectures, different networks, sensors, energy
harvesting schemes, etc. Will ARM need to make broader and more
compelling IP offerings?
East: Offering other pieces of
IP such as radio modules may be interesting. In theory, if we offer
more pieces in the [IoT] jigsaw puzzle, it may make it easier for our
customers to assemble them.
But again, we are in it as a business. We
need to think about the business model for offering RF IPs ourselves.
Maybe, it makes more sense to create an RF equivalent of Linaro, an open
source software for ARM SoCs. The question is how penetrated we will be
[in IoT] and how big [IoT] will be.
EE Times: How soon will you be ready with such RF IPs for IoT?
now, we are sensitive to the issue, we’ve made no decisions, and we
need to think about the timing that’s in line with the market.
Speaking of Linaro, ARM makes money out of licensing hardware IP. A
consortium like Linaro provides related software IP for free. The value
is increasingly in the software, which ARM is not monetizing. Has ARM
missed the opportunity?
East: We’ve explored this topic
many times internally. Some software can be licensed but there are huge
patent issues we need to overcome. Let’s assume that Warren East
Software company gets in the software IP business. But the company must
assume a huge risk of going bankrupt if someone claims its software IP
infringes his. Meanwhile, chip companies – licensees of ARM, for example
– can charge more money by adding software IPs to their SoCs. But
Warren East Software company could easily undercut the revenue
opportunities carefully tuned by SoC vendors.
The rise and
penetration of open source software has given rise to Android. An open
source software community like Linaro is the right way to go. It’s the
way to de-fragment the industry and build confidence in companies
investing in chip development.
I don't think RF will have a future in the IoT market as most of the object are connected to the main power line. I think that the future will be a LON device for each thing and a LON to WiFi router/gateaway to connect the devices to the Internet
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.