Is IoT finally ready to light up in 2017?

Article By : Rick Merritt

The semiconductor industry’s consolidation is sending out powerful repercussions across all markets, especially IoT.

Much work has been done in 2016 laying foundations for the Internet of Things. Now, all it needs is stories about deployments.

Among several foundational elements, security finally got the attention it deserves in 2016.

Our most-read IoT story to date was a 2012 security tutorial by an engineer from the former Freescale. The biggest announcement out of ARM’s annual technical conference in 2016 was the company’s core-to-cloud security offering for IoT.

The big denial-of-service attack in October that exploited poor password security in IP cameras and digital video recorders became the poster child for IoT vulnerabilities. It raised awareness to a new level that we hope is sustained for years to come, given that good security is an ongoing process in education about measures and countermeasures.

In September, the Industrial Internet Consortium released its security framework. Consumer trade groups have baked security into their own protocols. We welcome guest articles educating engineers about these efforts, and we expect the new year also will bring new IoT vulnerabilities and attacks on them.

In another foundational area, cloud-computing giant Amazon weighed in last year announcing its IoT services. It arrived after dozens of others have rolled out their own offerings, turning what was once a wasteland into a robust marketplace.

There’s never been a shortage of good microcontrollers. Nevertheless, one of our top IoT stories to date was a 2013 roundup of tiny IoT development boards. This year readers liked stories on a new open-source core, a start-up’s SoC based on it, and a separate start-up’s open-source SoCs—all geared for IoT. It will be interesting to see how much traction open-source components get in IoT in 2017 and beyond.

[NXP Hexiwear IoT 01 (cr)]
__Figure 1:__ *NXP won a reader’s choice award at ARM Tech Con for its ₹3,266.45 ($49) Hexiwear IoT reference design, one of many IoT components ready to roll. (Source: EE Times)*

Sensors and networks also expanded foundations for IoT. A roundup of the annual Sensors Expo and an older article on sensor trends ranked high among our top 20 IoT stories. Stories on enhancements to Bluetooth and the rising set of cellular and low-power wide-area networks got nearly 6,000 and 7,000 views, respectively.

In software, a move to greater interoperability got started in 2016. The merger of the Open Connectivity Foundation and the AllSeen Alliance in October was the biggest step in this direction. It was part of a wider move to collaboration and consolidation among groups including Thread, Zigbee, and others. However, the sector is still highly fragmented with fierce competition; for example, between Apple with its HomeKit application framework and Google with its emerging Weave protocol.

Big chip makers laid their foundations for capturing an emerging IoT market in 2016. The rivalry between the Intel and ARM rose to a new level as the x86 giant quietly prepared to expand its offerings in the microcontroller space that ARM dominates.

Intel rolled out new chips and modules for IoT and computer vision at its annual developer event. But the PC giant spent much of the year retooling for IoT, announcing its biggest layoff to date and reorganising its IoT group.

In boardrooms, factory floors and farm fields

The semiconductor industry’s consolidation is sending out powerful repercussions across all markets, especially IoT. The year began with Broadcom and Avago consummating their big marriage with ₹1,999.87 crore ($300 million) in cuts. It ended with Qualcomm bidding for the newly merged NXP/Freescale. In between, Microchip gobbled up Atmel and Micrel, and Analog Devices bid for Linear Technology—just to name a few of the biggest deals.

In smaller but still significant deals, Silicon Labs scooped up RTOS vendor Micrium, and Sony grabbed cellular chip set vendor Altair. Expect more such deals as companies fill out their strategic portfolios for IoT in 2017.

We sure have seen great excitement over emerging products. Microsoft’s Hololens pointed the way to augmented reality, and Amazon’s Echo pioneered the category of intelligent assistants in our 10th and 12th top IoT stories last year, respectively. And our roundups of CES and Japan’s annual embedded systems event showcased lots of novel gadgets and landed among our top five IoT stories.

Now it’s time to pave many paths to real-life returns on investment. This year, we traced the first steps that some cities took by deploying IoT-ready streetlights (right) and LPWA networks. There’s plenty of room for growth in this field and many others.

In an effort to pave a path to deployments, the Industrial Internet Consortium has set up 27 test beds around the world, each focused on a different industry sector.

Bosch helped launch the first IIC test bed in Germany in February 2015. It aimed to demonstrate ways of managing manufacturing control systems from multiple vendors, but quickly identified a need for standards.

The group has started to hammer out semantic standards for vertical markets that it thinks will ease the journey to real-world deployments. To spread the word, it is striking interoperability agreements with industrial IoT groups around the world, including China, where it forged a deal in November.

There’s plenty of work ahead for 2017 and beyond. For example, we hope to tell stories of systems in farm fields, where there has never before been any electronics.

This article first appeared on EE Times U.S.

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