Exploring smart meters in the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) isn’t a single homogenous market but splits up into different segments with very different requirements. A lot of IoT markets are still in our future: next generation wearable medical devices, autonomous cars and more. One area where IoT has been going strong, long enough that it probably pre-dates the catchy buzzword IoT, is smart power meters.

Atmel recent announced their latest power line communications SoC specifically designed for this market. The SAM4CP16B is an extension of Atmel’s SAM4Cx smart energy platform built on a dual-core 32-bit ARM Cortex-M4 architecture. It is fully compatible with Atmel’s ATPL230A OFDM physical layer device compliant with PRIME standard specification. The flexible solution addresses OEM’s requirements for various system partitioning, BOM reduction and time-to-market requirements by incorporating independent application, protocol stack and physical layer processing functions within the same device. Key features of the SoC include integrated low-power driver, advanced cryptography, 1MB of embedded Flash, 152KB of SRAM, low-power real-time clock, and an LCD display controller.

I think that as various submarkets of the Internet of Things develop, we will see a lot of devices like this; SoCs that integrate everything that is required for a particular application, leaving the system company to customize the hardware, add their own software and so on. IoT will not be a market like mobile, with huge chips being done in the latest process generation. Many IoT designs will include analog, RF and sensors, all of which are best designed in older processes like 65nm or even 130nm.

The system volumes for many designs will be relatively low and so designing a specific chip for each application will be unattractive. Even in mobile where the volumes are much higher, only Apple and Samsung design their own application processors, as far as I know. Everyone else licenses one from Qualcomm, Mediatek or others… Even Apple gets the modem (radio) from Qualcomm. The aggregate volumes will end up being large (there will be a lot of things) so the prize goes to the semiconductor companies that do the best job of designing chips that match what the system companies require.

Interested in learning more? The data sheet for the part can be found here. (Warning: It’s 1,000 pages!)

This post has been republished with permission from SemiWiki.com, where Paul McLellan is a featured blogger. It first appeared there on August 13, 2014.

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