A Guide to Processors for IoT and Wearables

Third Edition

Published May 2017

Authors: Mike Demler, Loyd Case and Linley Gwennap

Corporate License: $5,995

Understanding the Internet of Many, Many Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a buzzword that encompasses a wide range of end products, ranging from industrial control to home automation, from smart utility meters to networked refrigerators, from connected cars to smart watches. Almost any embedded system can be turned into an IoT device by simply adding a wired or wireless Internet connection. This simplicity enables a rapid pace of innovation — some good and some not.

The IoT market is difficult to measure because of its diversity and the lack of clarity as to what exactly IoT means. Many forecasters expect 25 billion or 50 billion or 75 billion IoT devices will be active in 2020, but these vague estimates often include smartphones, PCs, and other existing client devices. We instead examine the IoT market segment by segment to identify specific incremental opportunities. This approach also exposes the price points and technical capabilities that will be required.

Today, many IoT products use standard embedded processors or microcontrollers (MCUs), but the market is still quite nascent. Although industrial devices, such as smart meters, may cost more than $100, consumer devices will require lower prices to enable the expected growth. As the bill-of-materials (BOM) cost, or incremental BOM in the case of an appliance or car, falls below $10, low-cost processors and connectivity chips are required. In many cases, the processor and wireless chips will come from the same supplier or will be integrated onto the same chip. This approach simplifies the system design and reduces cost.

Many chip vendors are already developing or delivering products that combine a processor and a wireless connection. Depending on the target applications, the type of connectivity could be Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, proprietary sub-1GHz protocols, or emerging narrowband cellular protocols such as NB-IoT. “A Guide to Processors for IoT and Wearables” focuses on this emerging product category of integrated IoT processors.

Unlike typical market research, this report provides technology analysis and head-to-head product comparisons. Which chips will win designs and why? How will these vendors be positioned as the Internet of Things continues to grow? Only The Linley Group’s unique technology analysis can provide this forward-looking view.

We Sort Out the Market and the Products

“A Guide to Processors for IoT and Wearables” begins with an extensive overview of this complex market, breaking it down into several segments such as industrial, smart meters, home automation, connected appliances, and wearable devices. For each segment, we discuss the processor and connectivity requirements as well as cost and power. We also provide a forecast for each segment, indicating how the IoT is likely to grow.

Following the introductory chapters, the report delivers detailed coverage of integrated IoT processors from Cypress, Dialog, NXP, Marvell, MediaTek, Qorvo, Realtek, Sequans, Silicon Labs, Texas Instruments, and Toshiba. It also covers IoT-focused processors from MicroChip, Ineda, Intel, Samsung, and STMicroelectronics. For each of these vendors, we discuss the company’s strategy for IoT, its relevant products and technologies, and expected future directions. The report includes technical specifications for the relevant announced products and discusses how well they fit their target applications.

The report concludes with a comparison of these products, broken down by application, to highlight which products and vendors are best positioned to succeed in IoT. Finally, we offer our outlook for the leading vendors and for the overall market.

Make Informed Decisions

As the leading vendor of technology analysis for processors, The Linley Group has the expertise to deliver a comprehensive look at the full range of chips designed for a broad range of IoT applications. Principal analyst Linley Gwennap and Senior Analysts Mike Demler and Loyd Case use their experience to deliver the deep technical analysis and strategic information you need to make informed business decisions.

Whether you are looking for the right chip for your IoT application or seeking to partner with or invest in a chip vendor, this report will cut your research time and save you money. Make the intelligent decision, order “A Guide to Processors for IoT and Wearables” today.

This report is written for:

  • Engineers designing IoT or wearable chips or systems
  • Marketing and engineering staff at companies that sell related chips who need more information on the IoT
  • Technology professionals who wish an introduction to the IoT
  • Financial analysts who desire a hype-free analysis of the IoT market and of which chip suppliers are most likely to succeed
  • Press and public-relations professionals who need to get up to speed on this emerging market

This market is developing rapidly — don't be left behind!

What's New in this Edition

"A Guide to Processors for IoT and Wearables" has been updated to incorporate new announcements made since the publication of the previous edition.

Here are some of the many changes you will find:

  • Updated information on emerging trends and standards
  • Coverage of new processors from Dialog, MediaTek, Silicon Labs, and Nordic
  • Market growth and market share predictions for the coming years

The “Internet of Things” (IoT) is one of the most overused terms in the semiconductor industry, yet its definition remains unclear. Some people use the IoT label for any Internet-connected device, including set-top boxes, smartphones, and PCs. Rather than applying this label to large established markets, we prefer to focus on new markets, allowing us to gauge IoT’s true incremental value. A new class of processors is emerging to meet the unique requirements of these markets.

Initial forecasts of 50 billion IoT devices by 2020 were wildly optimistic, even though they included all Internet devices. Our forecast — which excludes established markets — predicts shipments of 1.6 billion IoT and wearable devices in 2020. By comparison, we expect 2.1 billion smartphones to ship that year. Our forecast shows a total installed base of about 5 billion devices in 2020. Since the previous edition, we’ve trimmed our forecast to accommodate the slower-than-expected rollout of consumer IoT products.

Our forecast assumes consumer devices will ultimately become the biggest contributor to IoT volume, as consumers far outnumber businesses. We limit the target market for consumer IoT to the 600 million households worldwide that will have Wi-Fi and broadband connectivity in 2020, not the seven billion individuals on the planet. Because the value for consumer IoT products remains unproven, forecasts for the number of IoT devices per household are highly speculative. Our model shows an average of 7.5 IoT devices per target household in 2020.

To reach this deployment rate, IoT-device vendors must improve the cost, battery life, and user interface of their products. Interoperability, ease of installation, and resistance to hacking are valuable features. Above all, these vendors must enable more-compelling applications that allow consumers to more easily manage their homes, access information, and monitor their health and security.

Industrial-IoT adoption is further along, as these devices have shown an ability to improve process flow and reduce operating cost. Smart electric meters were the initial leader, but we are starting to see considerable deployment of smart-city sensors (mainly cameras) as well as devices for smart parking and smart farms.

To cut system cost, application-specific semiconductor products (ASSPs) are emerging. Because most IoT devices have a wireless connection, integrating the processor and the radio is becoming common. IoT processors often integrate memory (RAM and ROM) as well. Analog interfaces (including analog/digital converters) can connect the processor to sensors, motors, and actuators. This level of integration also trims power consumption, which is critical in wearables and other battery-operated devices, such as remote sensors.

Because IoT covers many different applications, processing and wireless requirements vary. Many IoT devices perform little processing, merely uploading their data to a cloud service and executing simple commands. These devices typically use low-cost microcontrollers; the radio is either integrated in the MCU or on a separate chip. Other IoT devices, such as thermostats and security cameras, require more-expensive processors to analyze data or drive a display. Most consumer IoT devices use Wi-Fi, but to reduce cost and power, others use IEEE 802.15.4 or similar protocols. Wearables typically communicate with a nearby smartphone using Bluetooth. Vehicles and some industrial devices rely on cellular.

Many chip vendors have already jumped into the IoT market. Cypress, Dialog, Marvell, MediaTek, Nordic, Qorvo, Qualcomm, Realtek, and Sequans have added a programmable CPU to their existing wireless chips to create integrated IoT processors. Many of these chips include a proven Wi-Fi radio and are well suited to consumer IoT devices, but this approach also works with Bluetooth and low-speed LTE (e.g., NB-IoT).

Microchip (after acquiring Atmel), NXP, Silicon Labs, STMicroelectronics, and Texas Instruments have instead added wireless to their existing microcontrollers. These processors have limited CPU horsepower, but they often integrate memory and analog interfaces to reduce system cost. Most of them support simple protocols such as 802.15.4 and Bluetooth, which also minimizes power. TI is the only vendor in this group that has integrated Wi-Fi, based on its former mobile-connectivity products.

Many wearables shipping today (including the Apple Watch) use repurposed smartphone processors. MediaTek has gone the extra mile and designed a highly integrated processor for smartwatches. Qualcomm rolled out its first wearables processor, which is popular for Android Wear. Samsung uses a version of its Exynos processor in its Gear watches.

Intel generates large “IoT” revenue from its embedded x86 processors, but it has yet to integrate x86 and wireless (other than cellular) on the same chip. The company’s Curie module combines its Quark SE processor with Bluetooth, memory, and analog components. This multichip approach is power hungry and costly, but it could eventually lead to an integrated solution.

Each of these initial processor offerings has shortcomings that prevent it from addressing the entire IoT market. As long as IoT demand remains small, chip vendors will hesitate to invest large sums in ASSP development. Once a few IoT devices achieve high volumes, some vendors will improve their products to meet the needs of those applications. But the IoT market is broad enough to accommodate a large number of suppliers. This report explains which IoT and wearable devices each vendor can address today, as well as which technologies each can use to develop ASSPs for these applications.

List of Figures
List of Tables
About the Authors
About the Publisher
Executive Summary
1 IoT Applications
IoT Infrastructure
Industrial IoT
Consumer IoT
Connected Appliances and Automobiles
Wearable Devices
2 IoT Technologies
CPU Microarchitecture
Instruction Issue
Pipelining and Penalties
Flash Memory
Security Standards
Multimedia Standards
Video Resolution and Frame Rates
Audio Codecs
Video Codecs
Graphics Standards
GPU-Compute Standards
Vision-Compute Standards
Standard Interfaces
Memory Cards
Audio Interfaces
Displays and Camera Sensors
Cellular Technologies
3G Technologies
4G Technologies
LTE for IoT
Connectivity Technologies
Other Wireless Standards
MEMS Sensors
Camera Sensors
Touchscreens and Displays
Analog Interfaces
Signal Conversion
Other Analog Interfaces
3 IoT Platforms
IoT Implementations
Wearable Implementations
IoT Platforms and Standards
Apple HomeKit
Amazon IoT
Open Connectivity Foundation
Industrial Internet Consortium
LoRa Alliance
Mbed (ARM)
Thread (Nest)
Icontrol Networks
IEEE P2413
Wearable Software Platforms
Android Wear
Apple WatchKit
4 Market Size and Forecast
Industrial IoT
Smart Cities
Consumer IoT
Connected Cars and Appliances
Wearable Devices
Market Forecast
Installed Base
Processor Revenue
Shipments by Wireless Connection
Uncertainties and Reconciliation
5 Cypress
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Internal Architecture
System Design
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
6 Intel
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Internal Architecture
System Design
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
7 MediaTek
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
IoT Processors
Wearables Processors
Internal Architecture
CPU Subsystem
Graphics and Multimedia Subsystem
System Design
IoT Processors
Wearables Processors
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Internal Architecture
System Design
Software and Development Tools
Product Roadmap
9 Qualcomm
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Wearables Processors
IoT Processors
10 Texas Instruments
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
IoT Processors
Wearables Processors
Internal Architecture
System Design
Development Tools
Product Roadmap
11 Other Vendors
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Microchip (Atmel)
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Nordic Semiconductor
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Qorvo (GreenPeak)
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Silicon Labs
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
Company Background
Key Features and Performance
12 Comparing IoT Processors
Processors for Wi-Fi Devices
Low-Cost Wi-Fi Processors
High-Performance Wi-Fi Processors
Processors For 802.15.4 Devices
Low-End 802.15.4 Processors
High-End 802.15.4 Processors
Multiprotocol Processors
LTE for IoT
Processors for Wearables
Entry-Level Wearables Processors
Low-Cost Wearables Processors
High-Performance Wearables Processors
13 Conclusions
Market Overview
Industry Trends
Technology Trends
Vendor Summary
Texas Instruments
Other Vendors
Appendix: Further Reading
Figure 1-1. Example of a complete IoT network.
Figure 2-1. CPU pipelining examples.
Figure 3-1. Block diagram of a smart meter.
Figure 3-2. Block diagram of a high-end smartwatch.
Figure 3-3. Block diagram of ARM Mbed operating system.
Figure 3-4. Communication between Apple Watch and iPhone.
Figure 4-1. IoT unit share by market segment, 2021.
Figure 4-2. IoT unit forecast by market, 2014–2023.
Figure 4-3. IoT unit installed base, 2014–2023.
Figure 4-4. IoT chip-revenue forecast by market, 2014–2023.
Figure 4-5. IoT unit forecast by radio type, 2014–2023.
Figure 5-1. Block diagram of Cypress PSoC 63 processor.
Figure 5-2. Block diagram of Cypress CYW43907 processor.
Figure 5-3. Block diagram of Cypress PSoC 63 in a smart appliance.
Figure 6-1. Block diagram of Intel Quark MCU.
Figure 6-2. Block diagram of Intel Quark D1000 customer reference board.
Figure 7-1. Block diagram of MediaTek MT7697 processor.
Figure 7-2. Block diagram of MediaTek MT2533 processor.
Figure 7-3. Block diagram of MediaTek MT2601 in an Android Wear device.
Figure 8-1. Block diagram of NXP Kinetis KW41Z MCU family.
Figure 8-2. Block diagram of a robot controller using a KW40Z processor.
Figure 8-3. NXP development board.
Figure 10-1. Block diagram of TI MSP432 processor.
Figure 10-2. Block diagram of TI CC26xx processor.
Figure 10-3. Block diagram of a smart plug using the CC3200.
Figure 10-4. Block diagram of a sensor tag using the CC3200.
Table 2‑1. Standard screen sizes.
Table 2‑2. Cellular technologies for IoT.
Table 3-1. Leading IoT ecosystems, platforms, and standards organizations.
Table 5‑1. Key parameters for Cypress IoT processors.
Table 6‑1. Key parameters for Intel Quark processors.
Table 7‑1. Key parameters for MediaTek IoT processors.
Table 7‑2. Key parameters for MediaTek wearables processors.
Table 8‑1. Key parameters for selected NXP Kinetis W-series MCUs.
Table 9‑1. Key parameters for Qualcomm wearables processors.
Table 9‑2. Key parameters for Qualcomm Wi-Fi IoT processors.
Table 9‑3. Key parameters for Qualcomm cellular IoT processors.
Table 10‑1. Key parameters for TI MCUs.
Table 11‑1. Key parameters for Dialog Bluetooth MCUs.
Table 11‑2. Key parameters for Marvell IoT processors.
Table 11‑3. Key parameters for Microchip wireless MCUs.
Table 11‑4. Key parameters for Nordic wireless processors.
Table 11‑5. Key parameters for Qorvo GP695 MCU.
Table 11‑6. Key parameters for Realtek IoT controllers.
Table 11‑7. Key parameters for Samsung IoT modules.
Table 11‑8. Key parameters for Samsung Exynos 7270 processor.
Table 11‑9. Key parameters for Sequans IoT processors.
Table 11‑10. Key parameters for selected Silicon Labs wireless MCUs.
Table 11‑11. Key parameters for STMicroelectronics BlueNRG-1 MCU.
Table 11‑12. Key parameters for Toshiba App Lite processors.
Table 12‑1. Comparison of low-cost IoT processors for Wi-Fi devices.
Table 12‑2. Comparison of high-performance IoT processors for Wi-Fi.
Table 12‑3. Comparison of low-end 802.15.4 MCUs.
Table 12‑4. Comparison of IoT processors for 802.15.4 devices.
Table 12‑5. Comparison of multiprotocol IoT MCUs.
Table 12‑6. Comparison of IoT processors for LTE.
Table 12‑7. Comparison of processors for entry-level wearables.
Table 12‑8. Comparison of processors for low-cost wearables.
Table 12‑9. Comparison of high-performance processors for wearables.

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