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  • ARM and the Internet of Things

    Article: RTL Power Models-atc.jpgI was at ARM TechCon earlier this week, and attended Simon Segars (the CEO of ARM for the last 4 months) keynote speech that opened the second day. A theme of his speech was that just as innovation continues to happen in so-called mature industries like automobiles, the same will happen in mobile. One particular area of focus for ARM and for everyone else is what has come to be known as the Internet of Things (IoT). This has been talked about for years but will start to become real over the next few years (and in some areas, like smart-meters and smart-thermostats and bluetooth enabled door locks it already is).

    ARM commissioned a study from the intelligence unit of The Economist (the magazine that insists on calling itself a newspaper). The report is freely available to download from the ARM website here (pdf).

    It turns out that almost every business is thinking about IoT. 95% of C-level executives expect their employees to be using IoT within 3 years. 76% expect to be using IoT for internal operations or processes. 74% expect to be using IoT externally in their own products and services.

    Article: RTL Power Models-iot1.jpg

    As the report says:
    Kevin Ashton coined the term the “Internet of Things” (IoT) in 1999 while working at Proctor & Gamble. At that time, the idea of everyday objects with embedded sensors or chips that communicate with each other had been around for over a decade, going by terms such as “ubiquitous computing” and “pervasive computing”. What was new was the idea that everyday objects—such as a refrigerator, a car or a pallet—could connect to the Internet, enabling autonomous communication with each other and the environment. He is currently a general manager at Belkin, a US manufacturer of consumer electronics. Looking back, he says: “I was incredibly excited and optimistic about the Internet of Things, but compared to my optimism, progress seemed incredibly slow. It was quite frustrating. We were dealing with a lot of senior executives who had grown up long before the age of email, and it just wasn’t clicking with them.”

    So the term is over a decade old, but finally things are starting to move. But it requires a lot of coordination, as Simon pointed out. The IoT devices tend to be extremely low power with limited on-board compute power. They communicate through networks to find their way back to the cloud where the compute resources, databases, and interconnectivity to other devices resides. Just as cars have a lot of standards (when was the last time you got into a rental car and couldn't find the accelerator, or the gas pump was too big to fit) so IoT will require a lot of standards if it is really to take off. Otherwise it will be what Simon called the internet of silos, devices with their own network protocols, their own cloud back-ends and so on.

    Article: RTL Power Models-iot2.jpg

    Many of the devices will be very small and very low power, perhaps scavenging power from their environment or with batteries intended to last the whole life of the device. In general they will not be using state-of-the-art wireless technology since they don't need that much bandwidth and can't afford the power. They may only need a few bits of data per second of bandwidth for instance. Or only communicate to a local reader (like Walmart or FedEx using RFID to automatically track every unit in a shipment).

    Of course ARM hopes and expects to get their unfair share of the IoT market, both in the devices themselves and, increasingly, in the network and server farms where power will be at a premium and servicing billions of devices is more important that having the absolutely highest single thread performance (which is Intel's sweet spot).

    Once again the report is here.

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