Internet Of Things Connectivity Options Come Into Focus

By Mike Krell, Patrick Moorhead - March 14, 2017
Normally, silicon chip announcements don’t catch my eye. This is not to say that chips are unimportant; they are critical to achieving the goals for the IoT. Generally, however, I tend to take a higher level and more holistic approach to IoT subjects. That’s why, when 3 recent announcements caught my eye, I thought there might be more here than just “typical” chip announcements. These may be signals of some significant future direction for IoT communications. IoT connectivity (Source: Mike Krell, Moor Insights & Strategy) The first announcement was ARM Holdings ’s acquisition of two companies providing NB-IoT technologies. NextG-Com offers a complete layer two and three software stack for NB-IoT, and Mistbase provides a complete NB-IoT physical layer implementation solution. As a reminder, ARM had already ventured into the wireless space, having acquired Wicentric for its Bluetooth stack, and Sunrise Micro Devices for its integrated Cordio Bluetooth 5 and 802.15.4 intellectual property (IP) short-range technologies. Last week I provided my thoughts (Hype Vs. Reality: When Will Internet Of Things Networks Appear?) on the timing of NB-IoT (now called LTE-NB1). LTE-NB is going to be one of the most pervasive IoT connectivity technologies for at least the next 5 years—when it finally arrives. What is significant is that ARM, the leader in core technologies for IoT applications, has bet on LTE-NB for its long-range customers. To me, that speaks volumes as to the desire for system providers to use these three connectivity technologies for their IoT applications. The second announcement was by Qualcomm, who announced two chips: the QCA4020 and QCA4024. The SoC QCA4020 is a tri-mode device, integrating Dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy 5, and 802.15.4. As a reminder, 802.15.4 is the basis of both ZigBee and Thread. The QCA4024 is dual-mode, and integrates Bluetooth Low Energy 5 and 802.15.4. This is a significant announcement in that this is the first release of a Qualcomm chip that supports 802.15.4. Again, like the ARM announcement, this broadcasts to the world that the key technologies for IoT are Wi-Fi (which was a given), as well as Bluetooth and 802.15.4. I will also note that today, Silicon Labs is announcing its dual-mode chip, the Wireless Gecko EFR32xG12 that includes both Bluetooth 5 and 802.15.4, along with support for proprietary 2.4GHz protocols.   IoT is a three-legged stool (Source: Mike Krell, Moor Insights & Strategy) Without connectivity, this whole “IoT Thing” doesn’t work. To date, we have seen and heard about a variety of IoT connectivity technologies, both long- and short-range, but the clarity as to which technologies would be critical has been lacking. These recent announcements strike me as adding a strong push to add LTE-NB (NB-IoT) and 802.15.4 (either in ZigBee or Thread “flavor”) to the list of critical components of future IoT systems. ARM has added significant weight to the -NB camp. ARM is the leader in cores for IoT, and it doesn’t add new technologies, especially radio technologies, to its portfolio lightly. ARM is driven by customer demand. Customer demand is driven by applications that are going to be deployed. Similarly, customer demand has pushed Qualcomm, Silicon Labs and others to integrate 802.15.4 into their Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (already winners in the IoT connectivity race) chips. This says that support for ZigBee and Thread is no longer a “nice to have” but a critical component of IoT systems. Again as a reminder, this is driven by customer demand for specific IoT applications that need this combination. I’m betting on LTE-NB to be one of the most heavily deployed long-rage connectivity technologies to be deployed worldwide over the next five years. I’m also betting that 802.15.4, in combination with other key IoT radios, will be a winner for short-range applications over that same five years.
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Patrick Moorhead
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.