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Competing Consortia Confuse RF-based IoT Market

In Part 3, the panel of experts from academia and industry address which of the many competing consortia will eventually dominate the IoT RF market.

By John Blyler, Editorial Director

Synopsis of compelling comments:

  • “I like to view this issue as one of (competing) horizontal and vertical alignments.”
  • “The semiconductor providers will focus on one area and wait to see how the market evolves.”
  • “Remember the UWB consortia and the problems that the consortia had that really doomed that technology. We don’t’ want that experience to be repeated.”
  • Definitely there is an oversupply of consortia.”
  • “You do need some kind on standardization across all of the layers – hardware, software and application.”

A panel of experts was convened at the recent IEEE International Microwave Symposium (IMS) to talk about the role and impact of RF subsystems in the design of emerging IoT devices. Part 1 of this series or reports focused on the new challenges faced by RF engineers in the IoT space.

Part 2 focused on the IoT research opportunities created in the RF space.

In the final article – Part 3 – the panel focused on which of the IOT RF-based consortia would eventually dominate the market. What follows is a portion of the actual panel discussion. – JB

Panelists:

  • Ravi Subramanian, GM, Analog/RF/Mixed-Signal, Mentor Graphics, USA
  • Conan Zhan, Deputy Director, RF Division, MediaTek, Taiwan
  • Baher Haroun, Director, Embedded Processing Systems Labs, TI, USA
  • Larry Larson, Dean of Engineering, Brown University, USA
  • Gang Gary Xu, Director, Samsung R&D America, USA
  • Gangadhar Burra, Senior Director of Technology, Qualcomm, USA
  • [Moderator, standing on right] Oren Eliezer, EverSet Technologies & TallannQuest, USA

Part 3 – Which of the many competing consortia will eventually dominate the IoT RF market?

Oren (Moderator): Let go on to our third and final panel discussion question. There are lots of consortia out there, companies that team up together for a common goal. What are all the consortia about? Are they competing or complementing? Who will dominate?

Ravi (Mentor): Each of the consortia can be seen in the context of being horizontal, meaning aggregating common interests or pieces of the platform across industrial, automotive, consumer, etc. Or they are vertical, organizing and aligning interests on specific vertical applications. I won’t guess which consortia will win or lose. There are lot of consortia being created. One should ask, why they are being created. Some are created for aligning common interest to make a platform for that vertical happen much faster. In those vertical markets where consortia come together, we are seeing the rate of platform creation and deployment. In those places where the consortia are more horizontal, you just have a lot of consortia meetings.

Conan (MediaTek): Since we are at the peak for the hype for IoT (per Gartner’s Hype Curve), there are easily dozens of IoT Consortiums (see Figure 1). All of these consortiums come from a different perspective. I don’t have a clear answer for which consortia will survive I’d be more cautions with some of them. For example, some emphasize a mesh, peer to peer communication of the device. But in IoT, we may want a single device to have limited communication and computation capabilities (for reasons of power consumption).

Figure 1: The Alliance / Consortium of the Year award recognizes those groups of industry players who are collaborating to unite the Internet of Things.

Figure 1: The Alliance / Consortium of the Year award recognizes those groups of industry players who are collaborating to unite the Internet of Things.

Baher (TI): I like to view this issue as one of horizontal and vertical alignments. On one side – in line with the one radio chip concept – are consortia that want verticals to dominate the definition. Connecting eventually to the cloud, these verticals would include:

  • Home Consumer; Industrial; Urban/utility Infrastrure; Personal Health; and Open IEEE Framework STD/APIs

Participants in this alignment want the vertical players to define all of the details. Ideally, the IEEE should play a role in defining the overall framework. The efficiency is that there should be a lot of reuse in a vertical approach. But that is not the case. The case is on the other (horizontal) side. Connecting eventually to the cloud, these horizontals (or cross-industry collaborations) would include:

  • OIC; Allseen; IPSO; Thread; mbed; IEEE 2413; Homekit; Others

Actually, this is a mix of verticals and horizontal. For example, GE is a vertical players in the industrial market. But a lot of semiconductor guys try to be very horizontal to address every market. That has created confusion.

Figure 2: Hardware-software-application layers in the IoT RF space. (Courtesy of TI)

Figure 2: Hardware-software-application layers in the IoT RF space.

But what is there for them (semiconductor providers)? Typically, they provide the hardware and software drivers (see Figure 2). The middle layers sites on top of that which consists of networking protocols and the MAC layer. The consortia work to define this area, i.e., the mechanisms of how to access the network. That takes a lot of work from the software guys. The hardware platform should be secure enough to include enough security and memory for the software. A very robust hardware platform will have the right mix of offering to address all of these (software) issues.

The question then becomes one of value. That’s where the semiconductor providers look at it and realize there is no way to address every one of those things with a special item. Instead, they will wait, focusing on one area to see how the market evolves.

Here’s my listing of the Pros/Cons of IoT consortia:

Pros:
> Focus –> Growth
> Vertical Users involved –> Unique needs addressed
> From multiple options –> Best Solution for end market evolve
> More Network S/W jobs!!
Cons:
> Inefficient // S/W development
> Wait and See –> Slow Growth
> End Users Confusion –> Fragmentation disappointment – risk
> Broad Flexibility –> Hardware and development cost higher

Larson (Brown Univ.): The only thing that I’ll say about consortia is how we roll out these technologies in our industry. The only concern about consortia is that they can be cooperative or antagonistic. Remember the UWB consortia and wars that went on, the problems that the consortia had that really doomed that technology. We don’t’ want that experience to be repeated. So as we roll out the IoT, it is important that we pay attention to collaboration and coming together of the consortia because eventually, there probably won’t be 15 consortia, there will be just a handful.

Farshid (Samsung): There is a painful slide of consortia. Consider the smart home. There is a list of consortia going up that serves that portion of IOT. The reality is that there is an oversupply. It mainly has to do with readiness on the technology side. So there is also a solution that is ready-to-serve if this thing picks up in a meaningful way. But so long as it is fully spread around, the discussions will go on and on.

The other thing (about consortia) is who will benefit toward the end and how it will converge. It is likely that the electronic giants who have a variety of platforms and solutions, will at first hand make their devices talk to each other just as a first role out of such solution. Then, eventually, it may settle down to what you see today for your smart phone with two or three dominant platforms where everything talks to each other on that particular platform. But definitely there is an over supply of consortia.

Gangadhar (Qualcomm):  Consider your IoE Tower of Babel (see Figure 3). It has proprietary radios and a multitude of networking and chaos at the upper layers. On the right side, I’ve tried to project some sanity. You do need some kind on standardization and some kind of consortia across all of the layers. On the radio side we are more or less there. All of us by defacto accept the Bluetooth, the BLEs and, to a lesser extend, the 15.4s. Of course, nothing further has to be said about WiFi and cellular.

Figure 3: Consortia agreements are needed across all of the layers. While the RF hardware layer is reasonably settled, the networking layer is less so. The most value can be achieved at the upper layers. (Courtesy of Qualcomm.)

Figure 3: Consortia agreements are needed across all of the layers. While the RF hardware layer is reasonably settled, the networking layer is less so. The most value can be achieved at the upper layers.

The networking layer is a little bit more of a mess. It still remains to be seen as to what shakes out of it. The upper layers are probably where there are bigger bangs for buck. I tend to disagree with Baher (TI) about the vertical and horizontal alignments, because in IoE you really can not truly separate the two. You have to make sure where IoE is in terms of industrial, smart cities, wearables, whatever you want to call it. All of them eventually, in some fashion, need to talk to your phone or through that perhaps to the cloud. What does that mean? That’s (the goal of) AllJoyn in the Allsee alliance. Figure 3 portrays pictorially what the world can and should look like. All of the kinds of devices are talking to each other. That’s the consortia.

Oren (Moderator): Let’s see how the audience feels about this issue of which consortium should we follow (see Figure 4). Apparently, 41% responded the Qualcomm-backed consortium should be followed – mainly because Qualcomm “always get what they’re after.”

Figure 4: So which consortium should we follow? From the audience poll, 41% believe that the Qualcomm-backed consortia should be followed.

Figure 4: So which consortium should we follow? From the audience poll, 41% believe that the Qualcomm-backed consortia should be followed.

Editor’s Prolog: In the same way that IoT is shaking up a variety of industries (as per the above panel discussion on RFICs), I moderated a panel at DAC 2015 that investigated the challenge of IoT standards (or lack thereof) in the semiconductor chip design/verification tools industry (Figure 5).

Figure 5: The DAC 2015 Accellera panel focused on the challenge of IoT standards (or lack thereof) in the semiconductor chip design/verification tools industry. (From right-to-left: Lu Dai with Qualcomm; Wael William Diab with Huawei; Chris Rowen with Cadence; and John Blyler (moderator) with JB Systems.

Figure 5: The DAC 2015 Accellera panel focused on the challenge of IoT standards (or lack thereof) in the semiconductor chip design/verification tools industry. (From right-to-left: Lu Dai with Qualcomm; Wael William Diab with Huawei; Chris Rowen with Cadence; and John Blyler (moderator) with JB Systems.

At the IEEE IMS 2015 panel (see above), the focus was on connectivity standards. At DAC 2015, the focus was on IoT hardware-software from a variety of standard organizations. For example, what can be done by Accellera to make hardware-software development and integration easier for the chip designer? In his keynote at DAC 2015, the late Gary Smith talked about the move to software and even mechanical systems (again, a different set of standards). Do we need to worry about standards from other adjacent engineering domains? Or do we simply concentrate on the interfaces? Perhaps we need to focus more on the system-level design – or a System-of-System design? Maybe that is why both Seimens and Dassault Systemes now attend DAC.

Veteran journalist Richard Goering covered the DAC Accellera panel. To read more, please visit: Why Standards are Needed for Internet of Things (IoT)

 

 

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