SHANGHAI, China -- Many executives in the electronics industry today assume that the Internet of Things (IoT) is the next big, well... thing. But then they describe it so ambiguously that it tends to appear in different ways to different people.
To some, the IoT is all about sensors. To others, it's connectivity. Meanwhile, smartphones and wearable devices are increasingly pitched as the IoT's end node slapped on to human flesh. The IoT is also about smart lighting, smart thermostats, smart homes, and smart buildings. Even carmakers discuss the emerging generation of connected cars as the IoT on wheels.
At this year's International CES, Cisco CEO John Chambers summoned the ghost of Ozymandias and touted the "Internet of Everything" as a "$19 trillion opportunity" for businesses, governments, and consumers. "This will be bigger than anything done in high tech in a decade," he said.
None of these descriptions is wrong, according to Tyson Tuttle, CEO of Silicon Labs, who gave a keynote address at the recent Global CEO Summit put together by GlobalSources in Shanghai. He said that today's IoT definition is akin to an elephant described by blind men. Tuttle wasn't calling everyone in the industry blind, but he was explaining that the IoT's versatile nature often makes its definition too broad.
IoT SoC, the concept
During his keynote, Tuttle captured the imagination of the Chinese audience with a slide labeled "IoT SoC." The slide was reportedly created by using a block diagram Tuttle scribbled on a piece of engineering paper. That piece of paper, rather than traveling the typical route of pants pocket to washing machine to oblivion, survived as a photo on Tuttle's iPhone. Here's the original JPEG.
The IoT SoC consists of six blocks: sensor, low-energy microcontroller, RF transceiver, energy management, mixed signals, and memory.
The diagram shows the concept, not the real chip. Nevertheless, the slide was a huge hit, because it illustrated the IoT in tangible terms. By breaking it into building blocks in the "SoC concept," the slide helped the audience picture what it takes to the build the IoT -- on a basic level.
Even better, the diagram made Silicon Labs' case for its technologies and product portfolio, especially in combination with Energy Micro, the Norwegian company it acquired last summer, as the key to enabling the IoT.
Silicon Labs' arsenal of IoT-related products includes eight-bit and 32-bit low-energy microcontrollers, wireless technology with ZigBee, various flavors of 802.15.4, a number of proprietary standards, and an upcoming Bluetooth low-energy solution (devised by Energy Micro). Tuttle said it has "all the pieces necessary to address the low-data rates, low-energy, and low-power types of IoT applications."
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